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Are later school start times safer for students?

The school year is definitely well underway for Cabell County students. But some sleep-deprived teens may be at higher risk of wrecking in the morning as they make the drive to school for early morning classes.

Research conducted in a pair of counties in the neighboring state of Virginia determined that high schools with early starting times place teens who don't get enough sleep at risk for accidents when they are cruising to their first-period classes.

Benefits of later school hours

Comparisons of accident rates at two schools with early and later starting times indicated that teens are not operating at their highest functioning levels during the early morning hours.

The data also suggested a possible correlation between higher grade point averages for teens and later school starting times. Evidence also shows that when classes begin later, teens have fewer instances of drug usage and feeling depressed, maintain better peer relationships and have greater emotional control and lower suicide risks.

The doctor's daughter

One sleep doctor at Norfolk, Virginia's Eastern Virginia Medical School added this caveat: "This study did not prove by any means that early high school start times led to increased rates of car crashes." He stated that it indicated some association between those who are early risers and auto accidents.

One of the doctor's own daughters was the inspiration for the research. Because the girl had to be up at 6 a.m. to be on time for school that begins at 7:20 a.m. and then had sports practices and other extracurricular activities well into the evening hours, she was rarely in bed earlier than 10 p.m. He felt his daughter wasn't getting enough sleep.

He then learned that a nearby town's school starting time was more than 60 minutes after his daughter's school bells rang. This was the jumping-off point for his experiment.

Teens aren't biologically designed to be morning larks

As aggravating as it can be to try to get your teenager vertical and moving productively — conversation is optional — the reason it's so hard is that parents are fighting biology. As puberty kicks in, teenagers' circadian rhythms adjust and don't send the signals to their developing brains that they are sleepy and ready for bed until around 11 p.m.

Given that teens on average need nine and one-quarter hours of sleep to function optimally, they are just as likely to nod off while driving to class as they are while the teacher is lecturing.

Protecting teens' rights in an auto accident

Parents, if your teens are injured in a collision on the way to school or elsewhere, if they are under 18, the law looks to you to provide for their medical needs and pursue civil litigation in order that they may receive compensation for their injuries, losses and damages.

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