ADHD and Driving

Do teenagers and adults with ADHD evidence impaired driving performance as compared to their non-ADHD peer group?

Teenage and Adult ADHD is characterized by problems with impulse control, difficulties sustaining attention for prolonged periods of time, and problems with long term planning. In order to safely operate a motor vehicle, the driver has to be aware of their surroundings at all times. This requires extreme and prolonged vigilance. Further, drivers must also maintain constant focus on their driving, while ignoring the myriad of distracters that are inevitably encountered (i.e., radio, phone, stimuli on the road, etc.). Finally, drivers must remain calm and plan for future maneuvers (e.g., switching lanes, making turns), and refrain from making split-second decisions that other drivers are not expecting. The heightened impulsivity, impaired behavioral control and executive functioning challenges often observed in individuals with ADHD make all of these tasks difficult and could potentially contribute to driving impairment.” When compared to control groups, studies show that ADHD teens and adults are involved in more accidents, receive more speeding tickets and are more likely to have their licenses suspended or revoked.

What Parents Can Do

  1. Delay the age that ADHD teenagers get their licenses. The frontal lobes of the human brain are associated with our ability to plan effectively and control our impulses. Since the frontal lobes continue to develop well into our 20’s, older ADHD drivers are likely to show better planning, improving judgment/decision making and greater impulse control though they are still likely to be behind their peers.
  2. Have them take a full drivers education course. Those courses are much more extensive then the driving requirements to take a road test and they talk a lot about driver safety and bad things that can happen.
  3. Make a contract with your child about rules for taking the car and consequences for violations of your rules moving violations etc. Do not be afraid to take the car away for an extended period of time. They need to understand you mean what you say and you are prepared to take away the car if they do not abide by the rules. You want them to metaphorically “take you with them” when they are driving in that will serve as an additional internal control on their behavior until such time as they can exert increased control over their own impulses. Make rules around driving the car that are sensible and require.
  4. Consider putting a tracking device in the car and let him know you will be monitoring his driving.  This may feel extreme but if you worry your child will not respect that a car is potential lethal weapon, there is nothing wrong with telling your child they will have to earn your trust over time. The goal would be for you to be confident that they are driving the speed limit and they are accurately informing you of their whereabouts. A child who knows you can check on him, will exert more control and will work toward proving to you that the tracking device is no longer necessary.

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