What to Know About ADHD and Driving
Teen drivers diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are significantly more likely to crash, be issued traffic and moving violations, and engage in risky driving behaviors than their peers without ADHD, according to a Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) study published in the journal Pediatrics.
The researchers also found that adolescent drivers with ADHD are more likely to engage in risky driving behaviors, such as driving while intoxicated, not wearing a seat belt, and speeding. Because these behaviors are amenable to change, families need to encourage their teens to practice safe driving behaviors to reduce their crash risk.
Another CHOP study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, compared prevalences of crash responsibility, driver actions, and crash types among adolescent and young adult drivers with and without ADHD who crashed within 48 months of licensure. Researchers found that young drivers with ADHD were more than 9% more likely to be at fault for their crashes as compared to those without ADHD.
Young drivers with ADHD were also 15% more likely to be inattentive compared to those without ADHD. With the exception that drivers with ADHD were less likely to crash while making a left/U-turn, the researchers did not find substantial differences in crash types by diagnosis.
Is Your Teen With ADHD Ready To Drive?
Teens with ADHD may have characteristics that place them at a higher risk for unsafe driving behaviors, such as inattention, distractibility, impulsivity, and emotional regulation difficulties. Conversely, they may also have characteristics that promote safer driving behavior, such as a vigilance to follow driving laws.
To determine readiness to drive for their child with ADHD, families should first schedule a doctor’s appointment to address any concerns, such as attention, impulse control, or communication issues. They may also want to seek the advice of a behavior therapist, an occupational therapist who specializes in driving, or a driver rehabilitation specialist who has training in working with individuals with special needs. Factors to discuss include the child with ADHD’s willingness to communicate and negotiate with parents, consistency in following house rules such as driving agreements, and receptivity to constructive criticism and instruction.
Managing symptoms is key to helping adolescents with ADHD get behind the wheel safely. If ADHD medications are prescribed, families should work closely with their child’s doctor to ensure that the medication is working during the learning-to-drive period and continue to monitor its efficacy when driving with an intermediate license. While some families may fear prescribing medication when unnecessary, they also need to take ADHD symptoms seriously--especially when they may affect their teen’s crash risk.
It’s also important to add driving goals to the teen with ADHD’s individualized education plan (IEP) and to follow up with school personnel.
The Teen Driver Safety Research team at CHOP offers tools that can help guide families through the learning-to-drive process, including the TeenDrivingPlan Practice Guide.
After acquiring a driver’s license, adolescents with ADHD have an estimated 36% higher crash risk than other newly licensed teens. This crash risk persists during their initial driving years, regardless of gender or age when licensed.