If you have ever had a teenager on your auto policy, you know that younger drivers are generally considered to be more likely to have an accident.  While in the past, this understanding was based on research linking a driver’s age and amount of experience to their likelihood of being involved in a collision, a new study from Australia shows there may be another reason young drivers get in more accidents.

The study, which was published in JAMA Pediatrics, was conducted by a group of researchers at The George Institute for Global Health in Sydney, Australia.  It involved more than 19,000 participants who were all newly licensed drivers.  The study found that when young drivers get less sleep at night their risk for being in a motor vehicle crash goes up.

The study’s participants were newly licensed drivers between the age of 17 and 24.  Each participant was asked to complete a questionnaire that asked about their sleeping habits.  The research team also analyzed licensing and crash data for an average of 2 years after the initial part of the study.

The results of the research team’s analysis showed that on average, when these young drivers slept for less than 6 hours a night, their risk of being involved in a car accident increased in comparison to those who reported sleeping for 6 hours a night on average or more.  In addition, the timing of lost sleep seemed to also be indicative.  Young drivers who reported getting less sleep on the weekends ran a higher risk of being in an accident where their car or another car was run off the road. Those who were not getting enough sleep throughout the week and weekend ran a higher risk of being involved in an accident at night between the hours of 8 PM and 6 AM.

In light of these findings, parents are reminded that they need to be more aware of the sleep habits of their young drivers and help ensure these drivers are getting the sleep they need to mitigate the additional risk posed by lack of sleep.  These findings may also make the case for letting teenagers and young adults sleep in later on the weekends.  While getting the right amount of sleep every night is optimal, those teens that were able to catch up on their sleep over the weekend were able to mitigate some of their risk.  Conversely, those who did not sleep in on weekends ran an even higher risk than their sleep deprived friends of driving off the road or being in an accident at night.

Parents can also monitor the schedules of their young drivers.  Oftentimes these drivers are up early for school, class, or work and are out all day between school activities, sports, jobs, friends, and other activities.  Then, already sleep deprived and further exhausted by the efforts of their day, these drivers are hitting the roads to head home after dark.   This means we all need to do all we can to help these young drivers get the sleep they need to be safe.