Experts Call for Later School Start Times to Reduce Teen Traffic Accidents

Experts Call for Later School Start Times to Reduce Teen Traffic Accidents


With Labor Day now behind us, summer is over and the school year is in session for most students across the country. For many, this means waking up early and getting to class on time – even if it’s not the easiest thing to do. In fact, according to researchers, it’s not only hard for most students to get up early to attend school, it’s downright dangerous.

Later school start times have been a popular subject for some time, with many in support of letting teens sleep in. Last month, in the first official policy statement on the issue, experts weighed in and provided some scientific insight. Their opinion? Middle schools and high schools should start their school day no earlier than 8:30 a.m. 

According to experts from the American Academy of Pediatrics, teens have difficulties waking up earlier because biological changes associated with puberty cause shifts in circadian rhythm. The changes, which can begin in middle school, often mean that teens don’t get tired until later at night. Adequate sleep in adolescents is also important for learning, mood, and mental health.

Because of these biological changes, experts are suggesting later school start times so teens can get more sleep per night. Currently, only 15% of public high schools in America start at 8:30 a.m. or later.


Doctors have a great deal of evidence to support their suggestions for later start times. In fact, researchers have found the following benefits of letting teens sleep in:

  • Improved physical and mental health
  • Better attendance and student academic performance
  • Decrease in risky behaviors
  • Lower rates of car accidents involving teen drivers

Early Starts Show No Impact on Elementary Students

While the scientific evidence is clear that later school starts are beneficial for teens, the benefits don’t necessarily extend to elementary school students. Studies have suggested that there’s little impact on elementary schoolers with later or earlier start times.

For example, one study conducted by researchers in British Columbia found that when middle schools and high schools pushed their start times back from 7:45 a.m. to 8:40 a.m., it had no effect on the performance of elementary school students in the same district.

What are typical school start times?

The average start time for most public schools in the United States is around 8 a.m. However, there can be variations depending on location and grade level. For instance, elementary schools tend to start earlier than middle and high schools, with some elementary schools beginning as early as 7:30 a.m. Many secondary schools begin their day at 8:30 a.m. or later, while some may start as early as 7 a.m.

The potential impacts of later school start times on teen health and safety make them an issue worth considering for many school districts. While the evidence suggests that elementary students may not benefit from later start times, teens could see a significant improvement in terms of their physical and mental well-being if they get more sleep.

Given the positive results of later start times in other parts of the country , it’s likely that more schools will begin to adopt the policy in the near future.

What impact would later school start times have on sleep?

One of the main benefits of later school start times is that it would allow teens to get more sleep. Experts believe that teens need around eight to ten hours of sleep each night, but due to biological changes associated with puberty, they are often unable to fall asleep earlier in the evening. This means they wake up earlier than necessary and do not get the amount of sleep their bodies need.

By shifting school start times, teens would have a better chance of getting sufficient sleep on a consistent basis. This would lead to improved physical and mental health, better attendance at school, and overall better performance.

Preventing Teen Car Crashes

Reductions in rates of teen motor vehicle crashes are one benefit gaining a great deal of attention. According to a recent CDC study, researchers found a 70% drop in car crashes involving teen drivers at one school after the start time was delayed 80 minutes. Preventing teen car crashes could become a primary reason for schools to delay start times.

About 1 in 10 car crashes are due to drowsy driving, and young drivers, people between the ages of 16–24, account for more than 50 percent of them. In fact, a 2012 study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that being sleepy at the wheel carried almost as much risk as alcohol ingestion. I don’t know of any parent who would knowingly allow their teen to get behind the wheel of the car while drunk, and yet many parents let their kids drive while sleep-deprived.

According to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Traffic Safety Coalition, teens face increased risks of being involved in car crashes because they lack experience and are prone to distraction.

Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows 71% percent of teens and young people have sent text messages while driving, and 78% have read a text while behind the wheel. When these teens are tired from insufficient sleep in the morning, the combination of drowsy driving and use of electronic devices can only results in more teen crashes.

Shook & Stone: Your Las Vegas Injury Attorneys

At Shook & Stone, our Las Vegas injury attorneys have worked with numerous car accident victims injured in preventable accidents. Given our experience helping victims and families overcome these tragedies, we support changes that make our roadways safer, for teens and everyone on the road.

To learn more about your rights after a traffic accident, contact a Las Vegas car accident lawyer from our firm or fill out the form for a free consultation.