ADHD can cause problems behind the wheel for some teens with the disorder, but adopting certain strategies can help.
For most teenagers, a driver's license is an important milestone on the path to independence and adulthood. For most parents, however, it adds a whole new dimension of worry, since driving accidents are the leading cause of death for 16- to 20-year-olds. And for teenagers with ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), research shows the dangers are even greater.
Not only are teens with ADHD up to four times more likely to be injured in a car accident than other teenagers, they're also more likely to have their license suspended or revoked, and they rack up more traffic violations—especially speeding violations—than other teens. Perhaps most troubling is the fact that car crashes involving teenage drivers with ADHD tend to be more severe.
Teens with ADHD on the Road
Researchers believe these driving problems are caused by a number of factors associated with ADHD. Impulsive behavior, risk-taking, and inattentiveness (especially visual inattentiveness) are hallmarks of both ADHD and poor driving. Additionally, teenagers with ADHD are more likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol, which can add an additional risk factor to driving.
Medications for teenagers with ADHD—especially stimulant medications—have been recognized for their ability to reduce the hazards of driving, primarily because they minimize the errors caused by inattention. Longer-lasting medications, like sustained-release ADHD drugs, seem to work better than medications that must be taken several times during the day, largely because their benefits may last into the evening hours.
Special Precautions for Teens with ADHD
Some experts have called for states to require special licensing procedures for teenagers who have been diagnosed with ADHD. The parents and doctors of teenagers with ADHD also play a role in ensuring that teens understand the special risks they assume when behind the wheel.
If your teen has ADHD, you can help him become a better driver by taking the following steps:
- Ensure that your teen is taking his medication as directed.
- Remind your teen to avoid distractions like cell phones and other electronic devices while driving.
- Talk to your teen about how alcohol and recreational drugs can, among other things, impair driving.
- Encourage teens with ADHD to avoid playing the radio or listening to music while driving.
- Make sure your teen understands the rules of the road.
- Consider requiring that your teen drive without passengers (except supervising parents), especially when first learning to drive.
- Ask your teen to plan trips well ahead of time.
- Make sure all new drivers have taken a driver's education course.
American Academy of Pediatrics
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
"What We Know About ADHD and Driving Risk: A Literature Review, Meta-Analysis and Critique." Laurence Jerome, et al. Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 2006 August; 15(3): 105–125.
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Redelmeier DA, Chan WK, Lu H "Road Trauma in Teenage Male Youth with Childhood Disruptive Behavior Disorders: A Population Based Analysis." PLoS Med 7(11): e1000369. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000369
Russell A. Barkley, PhD. "Driving impairments in teens and adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity Disorder." Psychiatric Clinics of North America. 27 (2004) 233–260.