Why Teens are at a High Risk for Drowsy Driving

KNDK Law offers this blog entry on the importance of sleep to teen drivers, written by a guest blogger from the Tuck Sleep Foundation.

A study shows that teens don’t really understand the risks of driving. They tend to overestimate their skills, as well as the ability of medical trauma teams.

The teens in the study believe that car and highway designs are more likely than human error to cause a crash, and they see their young age and agility as an advantage that can help them better manage difficult driving conditions than more experienced drivers. They often believe that medical care is almost always effective.

In reality, teens are at a greater risk of fatal crash than any other age group. Teen drivers from 16 to 19 are nearly three times more likely than drivers 20 and older to be in a fatal car crash.  Risk factors including underestimating dangerous situations, speeding, shorter headways, and lower rates of seat belt use make driving particularly dangerous for teens.

Drowsy driving is a particular concern for teenage drivers. Nighttime driving and drowsy driving are both among the top eight danger zones highlighted by the CDC for teen drivers. The CDC says teens are most tired and at risk when driving in the early morning or late at night.

The CDC recommends teens stay off the road after 9 or 10 p.m. during the first six months of licensed driving. They encourage practicing nighttime driving with parents when you think they’re ready.

Parental support for safe driving is essential for teen drivers. As a parent, you can work with your teen driver to create guidelines that will help them learn how to be more responsible behind the wheel, avoiding hazards including drowsy driving.

The CDC recommends extending the length of learner’s permits for teens. Even in states without a graduated driver licensing program, parents can require longer practice periods with limits on high-risk driving conditions such as nighttime driving. Give your teen at least 30 to 50 hours of supervised driving practice over at least six months, practicing on a variety of roads, in varied weather and traffic conditions, and at different times of the day, including late at night.

Create a driving agreement with your teen to encourage safe driving. Guidelines should include no driving after 10 p.m. for the first six months, and a requirement to practice nighttime driving with you.

Talk to your teen about the dangers of drowsy driving. Encourage them to take it as seriously as drunk driving. Let them know they can always call you for a ride if they’re feeling too sleepy to drive home safely. Know your teen’s schedule, and identify driving times when they may not be well rested enough to drive safely.

Encourage your teen to make healthy sleep a priority. They should maintain a healthy sleep schedule with at least eight to ten hours of sleep each night. Make sure their bedroom is a healthy sleep environment that’s dark, cool, quiet, and comfortable. Help them avoid sleep pitfalls, such as screen time late at night and caffeine before bed.

by Ben DiMaggio, Tuck Sleep Foundation

Ben DiMaggio is a researcher for the sleep science and health organization Tuck.com. Ben specializes in investigating how sleep and sleep deprivation affect public health and safety. Ben lives in Portland, Oregon. His worst sleep habit is checking his email right before bed.

Tuck Sleep Foundation is a community devoted to improving sleep hygiene, health and wellness through the creation and dissemination of comprehensive, unbiased, free web-based resources. Tuck has been featured on NPR, Lifehacker, Radiolab and is referenced by many colleges/universities and sleep organizations across the web.

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