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Could a change in school start times reduce the accident risk?

Most parents with children in high school will tell you that the morning is typically one of the most difficult parts of the day. That's because their children are likely slow to get out of bed, largely silent while getting ready, and frequently late in getting out the door to their car or the bus stop.

While this may seem like nothing more than an inconvenience, studies have actually shown that this morning behavior can often be attributed to the failure to get sufficient sleep and that early school start times only exacerbate the fatigue. 

As if this wasn't bad enough, these studies have also linked the general drowsiness brought on by a lack of sleep and early start times to everything from poor grades to an elevated risk of car accidents. 

However, further research has revealed that changing school start times to as little as an hour later can help offset this lack of sleep among teens and greatly improve their wellbeing.

To illustrate, consider a study by researchers at the University of Minnesota, which determined that when the schools in one Wyoming school district moved their start times from 7:35 a.m. to 8:55 a.m., there was a 70 percent drop in car crashes involving teens during the weekday.

In light of figures like these, at least one Virginia school board is now considering changing its start times to give students the chance to get an extra hour of sleep.

Last April, the Fairfax County School Board commissioned a yearlong effort by the Children's National Medical Center to devise feasible proposals for delaying the start of classes until after 8 a.m.

Under current school start times, some students are forced to board buses as early as 5:45 a.m. in order to be seated by first bell, which rings promptly at 7:20 a.m.

The new proposals now under consideration outline multiple scenarios, including four that would see high schoolers gain anywhere from an extra 30 minutes to 60 minutes of sleep every night. This figure becomes all the more significant when you consider that experts with Children's found that Fairfax County seniors were averaging less than six hours of sleep every night.

It remains to be seen, however, how receptive board members and the community at large are to these proposals. Previous proposals to change the start of the school year were shot down over concerns about costs, impact on extracurriculars and parents ability to adjust their schedules.

Here's hoping that the right decision is made. Stay tuned for updates ...   

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in a car accident caused by the negligence or recklessness of another, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more about securing the justice and peace of mind that you and your family need.

Source: The Washington Post, "Fairfax teens could get extra hour of sleep on school days," T. Rees Shapiro, April 21, 2014

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