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Teen crash rates rise with earlier school start times

Residents of Florida may remember how late they would sleep in as teenagers. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, teens sleep long and late due to changes to their circadian rhythm; those aged 13 to 18 need about 8 to 10 hours of sleep every day. With schools starting early, though, some teens cannot achieve this, which means a higher risk for unsafe behavior when on the road, including drowsy and distracted driving.

A study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine focused on the possible link between school start times and teen car crash rates in Fairfax County, Virginia. In 2015, the county pushed back its school start times from 7:20 a.m. to 8:10 a.m. Researchers found that from the year before the time change to the year after it, the rate went down from 31.63 to 29.59 crashes involving licensed drivers aged 16 to 18 per 1,000 drivers.

The rest of Virginia, which did not change its school start times in the two-year period, saw no similar decline in teen accident rates. The study's conclusion is backed up by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, which has stated that middle and high schools should start at 8:30 a.m. or later. Later start times can help improve safety as well as classroom performance.

While schools can help teens be more responsible drivers, the blame will lie with the teens if they cause a crash and injure someone else. Florida is a no-fault state, so most people who are involved in a crash can settle matters with their own insurance provider. Those who suffer serious injuries, though, may file a third-party insurance claim to be reimbursed not only for medical expenses but also for non-monetary damages like pain and suffering. A lawyer may help in the process.

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