Teen Drivers and the High Risk of Drowsy Driving

Home/Blog/Teen Drivers and the High Risk of Drowsy Driving

Teen Drivers and the High Risk of Drowsy Driving

High Risk of Drowsy Driving – Teens find themselves not only at high risk for vehicle accidents but also for sleep deprivation. The combination of sleep deprivation and driving risk factors normally associated with teens make proper sleep an important issue for you and your teen.

Sleep Deprivation Alters How the Brain Functions

There’s a reason you feel sluggish when you haven’t gotten a good night’s rest. The synapses in the brain actually start to slow down in an attempt to get the body to a resting state so it can go to sleep. Teens need a full nine hours of sleep, up from the seven to eight that adults need, to be at their best.

The teen lifestyle often makes them more likely to be sleep deprived than many adults. During adolescence, the circadian rhythms shift, which makes teens start to feel tired two hours later, around 11 pm, than they once did. This shift along with the early start times of many high schools leads to chronically sleep-deprived teen drivers. By the weekend, when kids are ready to get on the road to go out with friends, their driving may be severely impaired.

Sleep deprivation causes:

  • Slowed reaction times

  • Decreased decision-making skills

  • Decreased reasoning skills

  • Mood swings, including increased aggression

These effects, when put together with the inexperience of teen drivers, makes teens far more likely to become involved in fatigue-related accidents. Teens also overestimate their ability to respond in an emergency and believe their risk of injury is lower than average.

Promote Better (and More) Sleep

Some high schools start as early 7 am with many offering select zero hour courses that start even earlier. While an extra hour of sleep may not sound like much, studies have shown that high schools with later start times show a reduction in the number of their students involved in accidents. Those who get less than four hours of sleep have a crash rate that’s 11.5 times higher than a someone who gets a full nine (or seven to eight for adults) hours of sleep. Every extra hour of sleep reduces the likelihood of an accident.

With the hectic schedule many teens keep, it might seem hard to make sleep a priority. But you can encourage small changes that can make a big difference in getting that full night’s rest.

  • Create the Right Conditions: The right conditions start with a comfortable mattress that supports the preferred sleeping style. A dark, quiet room kept at a cool 60-68 degrees at night gives teens optimal conditions for a good night’s rest.

  • Avoid Stimulants: Soda, coffee, and energy drinks loaded with caffeine may keep your teen up late into the night. Cut back on consumption at least four hours before bedtime to give the body enough time to flush caffeine out of the system.

  • Consistent, Reasonable Bedtime: While you may not be able to set a bedtime for your teen, you can certainly encourage him to go to bed at a reasonable time during the week. A consistent bedtime helps set your teen’s circadian rhythms, which in turn will help them wake up at the same each morning. It’s best to go to bed at the same time every day, including weekends, but it might be hard to enforce with a socially active teen.

  • Less Screen Time: The bright lights from laptops, smartphones, and televisions fool the brain into staying awake rather than sending the signals to start sleeping. Encourage your teen to turn off the screens at least an hour before bed to help the brain start to shut down the body for the night.


Thank you to the Tuck Foundation who authored the above article.  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.