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Study: school start time may affect how safely teens drive

Teens in New York, as elsewhere, are at risk for drowsy and distracted driving. The two can go together as drowsiness impairs judgment and leads teens to take more risks and become unsafe. Teens tend to sleep for 8 to 10 hours and wake up late in the day, and this habit can put them in danger when school starts early in the morning.

The Journal of Clinical Medicine has published a study that tentatively links later school start times with a reduction in the rate of car crashes, especially distraction-related crashes, that involve teen drivers. Researchers focused on Fairfax County in Virginia, which, back in fall 2015, pushed back its school start time from 7:20 a.m. to 8:10 a.m.

The year before that change, there were 31.63 accidents per 1,000 drivers that involved 16- to 18-year-old licensed drivers. In the year after, the rate was 29.59. Fairfax County was the only county to change its school start times in that two-year period. The rest of the state saw no difference in its teen car crash rates.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that high schools start later. Among the benefits are improved road safety, better classroom performance and even better mental health. Later start times have other indirect effects, such as a reduction in sports-related injuries.

As for the victims of motor vehicle crashes, they may have found out that a teen driver was being distracted behind the wheel and caused the crash. Regardless of what contributed to that inattention, the teen will need to be held liable for the crash. Victims who are not seriously injured will file with their own insurance company, but in cases of serious injury or disability, a third-party insurance claim may be possible. A lawyer may tell victims if they are eligible after a case assessment.