It’s perfectly normal for a parent to be stressed or concerned as their teen learns to drive. Driving is a high-risk behavior for teens, and should definitely be taken seriously.
For parents of teens with ADHD, this concern can be elevated, and understandably so. Drivers with ADHD often struggle with inattentiveness, distractions, and impulsivity on the road, and are more likely to get in an accident.
However, with some additional help, any driver can overcome these challenges, comfortably master the ability to operate a car, and safely enjoy the freedom of the road.
What is ADHD?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), is a neurological disorder in which people struggle to control their responses to stimuli around them, and may also have elevated energy or hyperactivity.
This is most often seen in parts of the brain that are responsible for controlling impulses and emotions. As a result, some symptoms of ADHD are that it can be difficult to ignore distractions, stay focused, set priorities, and follow-through consistently.
Though a person with ADHD’s brain develops at a pace about one to three years behind their non-ADHD peers, intelligence is not impacted by ADHD, and with medications, it’s often possible to limit some of this medical condition’s symptoms.
How Can ADHD Affect My Child’s Ability to Drive?
A person with ADHD’s struggle may start before they even get in the driver’s seat. ADHD often makes learning a challenge, so it may take a teen with ADHD longer than their peers to master the rules of the road, which can be frustrating.
Once on the road, ADHD provides a few increased risks. First and foremost, drivers with ADHD are more likely to be distracted while behind the wheel or forget the many checks, signals, and rules of the road, all of which increase their risk for an accident.
Increased impulsivity and more limited emotional control can make drivers with ADHD more prone to overreact to stressful situations or other drivers. On the other side of the spectrum, ADHD is also correlated with sleep problems, which can also increase the risk of tiredness and inattentiveness at the wheel.
What Can We Do to Help our Child with ADHD be a Better Driver?
There are a number of helpful strategies both for your car and your teen that can help them on the road.
Pick the Right Vehicle for Success
If you’re choosing a vehicle, studies have shown that drivers with ADHD actually tend to be safer and get in fewer accidents when driving manual transmissions. Likely, the extra level of physical and mental engagement creates a higher level of focus that can cut through distractions.
Drivers with ADHD can also benefit at an increased rate from vehicles with backup sensors, cameras, collision avoidance braking systems, and other safety features that help decrease the risk of striking another vehicle or object.
Set Some Ground Rules
It’s also helpful to set boundaries and rules and help your teen understand them. Distractions like loud music, eating while driving, or chatting with friends all increase their risk of an accident more than other teens.
Above all, remind your teen not to touch their phones while driving. Not only are cell phones one of the leading causes of distracted driving accidents, but cell phone use is illegal for minor drivers in Connecticut. Even for drivers over 18, only hands-free devices are permitted while driving.
Tips for Staying Focused
Some parents of children with ADHD have found that having their children keep a driving log helps them stay focused. Have them write down the details of their drive, such as their starting and ending odometer miles, the route they took, and the destination they went to. This extra mental pressure can help keep them focused.
If your child has been prescribed medication for their ADHD, make sure they are taking it as directed, and that it will not be wearing off at the same times they plan to be driving.
Who Determines if My Child Can Drive with ADHD?
From a legal standpoint, there are no laws in Connecticut that prohibit someone with ADHD from driving. However, the Connecticut DMV does have a form that any concerned physician, police officer, or loved one can submit if a driver’s ADHD seems to be putting them or others at risk.
This anonymous form is protected from any legal repercussions and starts a process that will suspend the driver’s license until they can be medically cleared to drive.
However, before resorting to this process, we recommend that the best way to determine your teen or family member’s driving ability with ADHD is to work with a Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist.
These driver rehab professionals can help your teen clinically evaluate their skills and challenges due to ADHD, and help develop a course of action to get them safely on the road.
What Does Next Street Look for When Assessing Patients with ADHD?
Our clinical driving professionals usually start with an initial, overall assessment of a driver’s motor skills, cognitive skills, reaction time, and visual abilities. All your teen should do is get a good night’s sleep and eat normally so that they can be ready for this initial assessment, which can take up to two hours.
Then, our CDRSs will focus specifically on your teen’s specific issues, and provide a broader driving assessment to understand exactly how their ADHD may affect their driving abilities. If all goes well, we’ll follow up with them and schedule a behind-the-wheel driving test.
Possible Driving Outcomes
Depending on what our CDRSs find out with your teen, it’s likely that there will be one of two actions.
The vast majority of teens and adults with ADHD will be able to operate a motor vehicle and drive safely, though they may need extra time to become familiar with the rules of the road. Teens with ADHD might also take an adaptive driving program to learn skills to stay focused on the road if need be.
Always remember, one of the biggest, most effective steps to take is to eliminate distractions like phones, loud music, or other passengers when your teen is driving.
Restricted Driving Privileges
If your teen struggles with distractions on the road, our CDRSs may recommend that your child refrain from driving during times and conditions that are higher risk, like at night, on freeways, in heavy traffic, or in inclement weather.
For many people with ADHD, these restricted driving privileges are just a temporary measure as they work to hone their driving skills, and later on, they will be more comfortable and able to drive as normal.
Take the Next Step
Here at Next Street, our goal is to help a wide range of people with disabilities or hindering medical conditions safely enjoy the freedom and mobility of driving, whether that’s through adaptive equipment, training, or strategic restrictions.
If you or your teen have ADHD and are interested in getting safely on the road, you can reach out to our team for a free consultation.