Delaying school start times can save lives
By WINK News
Story Created: Jan 21, 2009 at 4:27 PM EST
Story Updated: Jan 21, 2009 at 7:40 PM EST
When parents think of their teens driving, one of their biggest concerns is alcohol. But according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there is another factor that is just as dangerous, when it comes to teenage driving - fatigue.
Like many teens, 17-year-old Byron Crowe is busy. To keep going, he averages two energy drinks a day- everyday.
“These are about 430 Quick Trip 52 ounce cups I’ve been collecting since August,” he says, while showing off the stacks of cups he keeps in his room.
While juggling school, sports, homework and an active social life, Byron says that on most days he gets up early - and goes to bed late.
“Getting enough sleep, though, is a difficult task,” he says. “I mean, you just kind of got to gut it out.”
And, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, that can be deadly.
“Legal-limit drunk, in terms of blood alcohol level, is equal to 17 hours of continuous wakefulness,” say Dr. Jeffrey Durmer, director of the pediatric sleep medicine department at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
In other words, if you wake up at six a.m. and then get behind the wheel at 11 that night, you will, in effect, be as impaired as someone driving drunk.
Byron says he’s already had too many close calls, driving while sleep-deprived. One that he especially remembers came after pulling an all-nighter. “That next day, driving home from school was so difficult,” he says. “I mean, I’m just sitting at the wheel just like -uhhhh.”
Experts say drowsiness is dangerous for all drivers, but especially for teens.
“Their abilities are less than someone who’s been driving for 20 or 30 years,” explains Dr. Durmer, “so any small change can really throw off a newer or novice driver.”
In fact, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, when high schools move their morning start time one hour, from 7:30 to 8:30, students not only got more sleep- they also had fewer car accidents.
“If you’re in a long drive and you’ve not gotten enough sleep all week, you’re at risk. You’re at high risk,” says Ted Waldbart of the Safe America Foundation.
After only a few months with a driver’s license, Byron has already learned a very important lesson.
“You just have to remember that you’re still driving a car - that you still need to focus, you know, you’re taking your own life in your hands every time you drive.”
Tips for Parents
Driving is a risky proposition for many American teenagers. Despite spending less time driving than all other age groups (except the elderly), teenage drivers have disproportionately high rates of crashes and fatalities. Experts say that the high accident rates for teens are caused by a combination of factors, most notably teenagers’ immaturity and lack of driving experience. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System collected the following data about teenage drivers:
Crashes are the leading cause of death among 16- to 19-year-olds.
The majority of teenage passenger deaths occur when another teen is driving.
Two-thirds of teens killed in motor vehicle crashes are male.
Among teenage drivers, alcohol is a factor in 23 percent of fatal accidents involving males, 10 percent of fatal accidents involving females.
More than half of the teenage motor vehicle deaths occur on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Of those deaths, 41 percent occur between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The risks involved in letting a teenager get behind the wheel of a car are very real, but there are safety measures parents can take to improve the odds for beginning drivers. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety offers these tips:
Don’t rely solely on driver education. High school driving courses may be the most convenient way to teach driving skills, but they don’t produce safer drivers.
Supervise practice driving. Take an active role in helping your teen learn how to drive. Supervised practice should be spread over at least six months and continue even after your teen graduates from a learner’s permit to a restricted or full license.
Remember, you are a role model. New drivers learn by example, so you must practice safe driving. Teens with crashes and violations often have parents with poor driving records.
Restrict night driving. Most nighttime fatal crashes among young drivers occur between 9 p.m. and midnight, so your teen shouldn’t be driving much later than 9 p.m.
Restrict passengers. Teenage passengers in a vehicle can distract a new driver and/or lead to greater risk-taking. The best policy is to restrict the number of teenage passengers your teen is allowed to transport.
Require safety belts. Don’t assume that your teen is using a safety belt when he’s with his friends, just because he uses it when you’re together. Research shows that safety belt use is lower among teens than older people. Insist that your teen use a safety belt at all times.
Prohibit driving after drinking. Make it clear that it is illegal and highly dangerous for a teen to drive after drinking alcohol or using any other drug. While alcohol isn’t a factor in most crashes of teenagers, even small amounts of alcohol are impairing for teens.
Choose vehicles for safety, not image. Teens should drive vehicles that reduce their chances of a crash and offer protection in case they do crash. For example, small cars don’t offer the best protection in a crash. Avoid cars with performance images that might encourage speeding. Avoid trucks and sport utility vehicles, particularly the smaller ones, which are more prone to roll over.