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School start times and teen driver crashes : traffic tech.
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    Sleep health has become an increasingly important and studied topic in the last decade. So much so that a number of school districts across the United States have explored changing, or have already changed their high-school start times to a later hour in order to improve academic performance. During adolescent development, people’s brains undergo substantial change leading to a shift in overall sleep length needs and circadian schedules. Researchers have suggested that moving school start times to 8:30 a.m. or later, to coincide with teens’ changing circadian clocks, can produce improvements in academic performance and decreases in disruptive behavior. Researchers also suggest that lack of sleep can have negative effects on reaction time, alertness, hazard perception, and decision-making abilities – very important skills in academics as well as behind the wheel. By providing teens greater opportunity to sleep, not only academic performance could be improved but also traffic safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is fundamentally interested in how recent interest in changing school start times will affect teen driver safety. Drowsiness is a factor in many vehicle crashes and traffic fatalities. According to NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data, on U.S. roadways each year from 2008 to 2012, there were, on average, 740 fatal crashes in which the driver was reported as being drowsy, sleepy, asleep, or fatigued. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimates that 16.5 percent of fatal crashes involved a drowsy driver. Most studies that explore the incidence of drowsy driving crashes by population conclude that young adults, especially males, are at a significantly higher risk of having a drowsy-driving crash. In addition to progressively later bed times across the U.S. population, teens undergo an unavoidable biological change during adolescent development that leads to a shift in their circadian rhythms, which results in teens requiring more sleep in the early morning hours (e.g., 6–7 a.m., when many students are leaving for school). NHTSA funded a study to evaluate the effects of a shift in high school start time on 16- and 17-year-old drivers’ traffic crashes on school days.
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