Says ADHD Increases Teen Driving Risk
CWK News Director
have a lot of things coming at you at once and you don’t know
what to focus on first.” Christine, Age 19.
19, Christine is just now learning to drive with her father.
She has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, and
that’s one reason Christine has waited this long to get her
of the biggest things that happens is confusion,” Christine
says. “You have a lot of things coming at you at once
and you don’t know what to focus on.”
show teen drivers who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity
Disorder, or ADHD, are four times more likely to be involved
in a wreck. “They are much more distracted,” says
Dr. Betsy Gard, a psychologist. “They are much more unfocused
and the number of car accidents they have is higher.”
allowing a teen with ADHD to drive, there are signs experts
say parents should look for. Signs like good judgment in other
areas of life, which may indicate a teen is ready to take
the youngster shows good judgment,” Dr. Gard says, “good
self control in various areas, particularly emotional, self-control
and good judgment, that’s a good sign. That’s a good indicator.”
Cherise studies the Rules of the Road, she is hoping that
soon she will feel confident enough to actually take her driving
every time I get in the car now,” Cherise says, “I
have to sit there an go, ‘whew!'”
ADHD And Driving: A New Study
years have seen a tremendous growth in parental, medical and
scientific knowledge concerning attention-deficit hyperactivity
disorder (ADHD). Research has shown that children and adolescents
with early attention difficulties may be at an increased risk
for a number of educational, medical psychosocial and other
problems throughout their teenage years and into early adulthood.
The problems include:
illnesses and increased associated medical costs
increased risk of substance abuse
the cause and effect relationship between ADHD and some of
the problems listed above continues to remain subject to debate,
researchers have also begun to study a potential relationship
between ADHD and motor vehicle accidents involving young drivers.
A new study, published in the Journal of the American Academy
of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, has shown that adolescent
attention difficulties contribute to injury accident risks
and (possibly) risky driving behavior.
to the authors, the results of this particular study confirmed
previous research suggesting that increasing levels of attentional
difficulties are associated with elevated driving risks including
traffic accident involvement, drinking and driving, illegal
and/or unsafe driving activities, and an increased tendency
to ignore or violate traffic safety laws. The authors also
point out, however, that other factors like gender, behavioral
problems, driving experience, and distance traveled also play
a part in the problem.
to an article published in Attention!® Magazine, a publication
of Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity
Disorder (CHADD), parents need to consider some key points
before their ADHD teens begin to drive. For example, some
of the factors that influence safe driving habits for anyone
include basic good judgment, the amount of driving experience
the individual may have had, and the person’s attitude while
driving. Teenage drivers in general have to struggle with
their knowledge of what makes a good driver in opposition
to feelings of invulnerability and the age-old struggle for
independence from their parents. Unfortunately, invulnerability
and independence often win out over good driving practices,
resulting in risk-taking behaviors. Teens with ADHD may be
at an even greater risk for problems than the teenage population
in general since they may not be as mature as some their peers,
Consequently, teens with ADHD may take significantly longer
than other teens in developing good judgment and a mature
attitude toward driving.
of ADHD kids should also make it clear that learning how to
drive is a privilege to be earned. Another point for parents
to consider is how safe they feel driving with their child.
If they don’t feel reasonably comfortable (or as comfortable
as any parent can be driving with their child), it may be
a good idea to delay letting the child apply for his or her
driving license until they feel better about the child’s driving
of ADHD teens decide to let their children begin learning
to drive, the following are some suggestions for helping those
teens become safe drivers:
good driving behaviors for your children.
to provide as much supervised driving time as possible for
the child when he or she has her learner’s permit.
frequent, short (30 minutes or less), well-planned driving
sessions. Patience is essential, so try to model patient
driving skills by remaining as calm and relaxed as possible
during the sessions.
late night driving that’s unsupervised. Teen outings late
at night tend to be recreational and pose additional risk
on seat belt use at all times.
enforce no drinking and driving rules.
safe cars for driving, and retain ownership of the car the
teen drives. The combination of high-performance, flashy
cars and a young, impulsive driver can be very dangerous.
emergency situations with your teen before he gets a license.
Stress the importance of staying at an accident scene. Put
together emergency situation packets and put them in the
glove compartment of any of your cars the teen is allowed
to drive. Recommendations for packet contents include: vehicle
registration, insurance card and agent information, emergency
phone numbers, home/office phone numbers for parents, coins
for emergency phone calls, a list of what to do in case
of an accident, and a letter about medications being taken
sure that the child’s medication schedule supports their
driving activities, in consultation with your child’s physician,
administer medications to your teenager as needed to reduce
impulsiveness and inattention without sacrificing their
driving capability. Ask your physician to write a letter
stating that the medications they prescribe for AD/HD are
safe to use while driving. If your child is required to
submit to a blood test or a urinalysis after displaying
poor driving behavior, he should immediately supply law
enforcement officers with the letter.
through on predetermined consequences for breaking the agreed-upon
rules as soon as possible. Delayed consequences decrease
significance for teens with AD/HD. Restrict or remove driving
privileges as needed. Also, require the teen driver to pay,
or contribute to the payment of any fines, repairs, or increases
in insurance premiums that they cause. Adolescents need
to learn that they have financial as well as moral responsibilities
associated with the privileges of driving.
some of these suggestions are specific to ADHD drivers, the
majority of them make good sense for parents of any teenager
embarking on the driving experience.
Outcomes of Young People With Attentional Difficulties in
Adolescence”; Journal of The American Academy of Child
and Adolescent Psychiatry 2000; 39: 627-634; Lianne J. Woodward,
Ph.D.; David M. Fergussson, Ph.D.; L. John Horwood, M.Sc.;
of Teen Drivers with AD/HD: Proceed with Caution” Children
and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder;
Attention!® Magazine; Volume 5, Number 4, Page 42; Dr.
Marlene Snyder, Rae Hemphill, authors