February 15, 2015
As many parents know—and studies and statistics confirm—ADHD is a risk factor for traffic accidents and other driving problems. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that drivers ages 16 to 22 with ADHD are more likely than their peers to crash their cars, experience bodily injury from auto accidents, be at fault for the accidents they’re in, and receive citations for traffic violations, especially speeding.
Automobile accidents are the leading cause of death and disability for teens and young adults. Add ADHD to the mix and the risks for both increase.
This should come as no surprise. The factors that make driving a risky proposition for those with ADHD are inherent in the diagnosis: Difficulty focusing, lacking attention to detail, problems maintaining attention, and becoming distracted easily are a recipe for driving dangers.
Lowering the Risk
What’s a parent of a teen with ADHD to do? Short of banning driving altogether, experts suggest the following:
- Forbid talking on the phone or texting while driving. In fact, just ban the phone from the car; that way there’s no temptation to pick it up when it rings or “just send a quick text to Kelly.” If it’s in the trunk, your child will still be able to access it in an emergency (e.g. an auto accident).
- Limit drive time to off-peak hours when fewer cars are on the road. Heavy traffic can cause sensory overload and be a source of distraction.
- Limit passengers. Some states have laws prohibiting new drivers from driving with peers in the car for a period of time. Consider enacting a house rule that extends the time.
- Some people with ADHD find background music distracting while others find that it helps them focus. However, all are at risk if they’re fiddling with the car stereo while driving. Insist your music-loving child bring a music device configured for long listening sessions.
- If your child needs medication to manage ADHD, do not extend driving privileges if he unilaterally has decided he no longer wants to take those meds.
A car is a lethal weapon in the hands of those who cannot operate it safely. Before turning over the keys, make sure you’ve logged plenty of passenger time with your child behind the wheel. Don’t hesitate to withhold driving privileges if your child shows he’s not up to the task. The alternative is untenable.