Early school starting times in Washington may contribute to a significant number of car accidents involving teen drivers. According to a newly released study from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, starting the school day later could lead to safer roadways.

Sleep researchers analyzed accident rates for teen drivers in one county where school starting times were delayed from one year to the next. While school started the first year at 7:20 a.m., starts were moved to 8:10 a.m. for the following academic year. Researchers investigating the effect of school timing on teen driver safety found that the accident rate for drivers between 16 and 18 dropped from 31.63 per 1,000 drivers to 29.59 after the school starting time was delayed.

Elsewhere in the state, the teen motor vehicle accident rate remained the same, so the change could not be linked to an overall trend for safer teen driving. The results back up other studies that say teens are more likely to make good decisions when they are allowed to sleep and begin the school day later in line with natural sleep patterns. Later school times help teens sleep more, and physicians say that they also promote increased attendance, decreased tardiness, improved learning and discussion in class, and better mental health. Now, improved driver safety can be added to the list.

The effects of sleep deprivation on driver performance are well-known. Indeed, drowsy driving can be so risky that some have compared it to driving drunk. Many serious car accidents have been linked to drivers falling asleep behind the wheel.

Drowsy drivers of any age can pose a serious risk of catastrophic car accidents and the resulting serious injuries. Someone who has been injured by a drowsy, distracted or otherwise negligent driver may work with a personal injury attorney to pursue compensation for their losses.