injury or death rises to a great degree. And teens do drive drowsy: More than half the adolescent drivers who participated in the National Sleep Foundation’s 2006 Sleep in America poll say they had driven drowsy during the past year, and 15 percent of participating 10th- to 12th-grade drivers report driving drowsy once a week. But feeling sleepy isn’t the only issue—increased awake time, reduced sleep time, and the phase of your teen’s internal body clock are all independent risk factors for drowsy-driving accidents. That means that teens are at risk of having an accident if they sleep only six hours at night and drive to school when they should still be in their sleep cycle as well as when they’re driving home at night after they’ve been awake for 18 hours. Dr. Christian Guilleminault, an international sleep expert, studied the effects of sleep deprivation in the laboratory and extrapolated his findings to real-life situations on the open road in France. He concluded that road safety campaigns should encourage drivers to avoid driving after sleep deprivation even on relatively short trips, especially if they feel sleepy.
Is your child safe because she is a very good driver? Unfortunately it’s not only “bad” kids who drag race or take chances behind the wheel who suffer the consequences. Sleep researcher Mary Carskadon found that high school boys who have the most extracurricular time commitments were the most likely to report falling asleep at the wheel; a hard-working male teen who plays sports after school and then works at a job in the evening may be at the greatest risk of a fatal fatigue-related motor vehicle accident. Crashes can happen to any teen who isn’t getting enough sleep.
They are also more likely to happen if a sleep-deprived teen driver drinks alcohol. Banks et al. studied the relationship between age, alcohol, sleep deprivation, and crash risks. After evaluating 20 healthy volunteers with an average age of 23, they found that alcohol, even at legal blood concentrations (under 0.08 in most states), increased sleepiness and impaired both performance and the ability to detect crash risks when the volunteers had been restricted to five hours of sleep.
Teens, though, don’t need to drink and drive to have impaired performance. Other studies have shown that sleep deprivation produces psychomotor response (responses that involve both the brain