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Sleepy Teen Drivers Pose Huge Threat on the Road

Update Date: May 22, 2013 09:32 AM EDT

Learning how to drive is a huge part of one's teenage years. For parents, reminding their children to drive responsibly, whether it is wearing a seat belt or avoiding the radio, is very important and can help protect the community as well as the driver. In recent years, campaigns regarding teenage driving have been focused on drunk driving and driving while texting, two very dangerous driving habits that not only can kill the driver, they can also lead to major car accidents and innocent fatalities. In a new study, however, researchers strayed away from these two factors to examine sleepiness, something that most teenagers and young adults have. The study, conducted by researchers from the George Institute in Sydney, Australia, found that drowsiness, which is already a risk factor for adult drivers, could significantly increase the risk of a car crash for teenage drivers.

"Young people are particularly at risk for sleep deprivation," the lead author, Alexandra Martiniuk stated. "It doesn't take drastic sleep reductions to increase the risk of crash."

The research team recruited around 20,000 Australian new drivers and monitored their habits for two years. The recommended number of hours devoted to sleep is eight and a half to nine and a quarter per night for teenagers. In this study, the researchers found that for the age group of 17-year-olds, 10 percent of them had less than six hours of sleep per night. For the 20 to 24-year-old participants, 17 percent of them had less than six hours of sleep per night. The researchers discovered that the majority of accidents occurred between eight at night and dawn. The researchers believe that driving at these night hours increased the risk of an accident because the teenage drivers could have been deprived of sleep, since they normally would be sleeping at the time of the accident. The researchers found that not only were these children sleeping less, they were also more prone to participating in drug or alcohol abuse. The researchers did not find a cause-and-effect relationship.

Even though the findings suggest that drowsiness increases one's risk for car accidents, the researchers acknowledged the fact that they could not measure the participants' blood alcohol levels, which would explain why the accidents occurred. Despite this lack of information, the researchers stress that driving with sleep deprivation should be considered risky and dangerous and should be avoided.

The findings were published in JAMA Pediatrics.

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