Teenagers have the highest rate of car wrecks of any age group. Unfortunately, Kentucky is no exception. In fact, I was listening to the radio yesterday and the lead story was that nine teenagers had died this year in car wrecks in Bell County. Just think about that number, 9 teenagers from one small county in Kentucky in just one year. According to the 2006 census, the population of Bell County, Kentucky is only 29,000 people, of which there are only 6500 under the age of 18. The total population of Bell County High School is about 900, that means that 1% of the student body died in car wrecks in 2008. Tragic.
So, is there anything we can do to reduce the number of teenagers injured or killed in Kentucky in car wrecks and crashes? Well, according to a recent study published in the journal Journal of Sleep Medicine, there just might be. In the study, 10,000 Kentucky students from grades 6 through 12 where tracked on their sleep habits and daytime functioning, including auto mishaps. The surveys were completed twice -- first in 1998, when school started at 7:30 a.m., and then again in 1999, when the start time had been moved to 8:30 a.m.
According to the Louisville Courier-Journal story on the recent study "Letting teens sleep a little more by starting the school day a bit later may lower their odds for car-crash injury or death, a new study finds. The researchers found a 16.5 percent drop in auto accident rates for teen drivers when local high schools moved the start of classes from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m."
The study indicated that sleep deprivation causes 100,000 wrecks per year and that half of those are drivers 16-25. The study further found that "The average teenager probably needs at least eight hours and probably closer to nine hours of sleep, Danner said. And as little as an hour less sleep can have a cumulative effect. That means that by the end of the week, teens are as impaired as if they had stayed up for 24 hours straight, Danner explained"
P.S. One of the reasons that the death rate of teens in car wrecks is so high is because they usually travel in groups. While the recent fatality in Bell County, Kentucky (Brooke Lambert a cheerleader at Middlesboro High School) was a single death, four teens died earlier in December in a collision with a coal truck on U.S. 25 East as a result of slick roads and four other teens died in a fiery crash on Kentucky 92 in January. Police said their car hit a tree.