Any parent will be stressed out and concerned as their teen learns to drive. This is understandable, as automobile accidents are the leading cause of death among youth. Driving is not a task to be taken lightly. For parents of teens with ADHD, there is an even higher level of concern. Drivers with ADHD struggle with inattentiveness, distractibility, and impulsivity, and are two to four times more likely to get in an accident. However, with some additional help, they can overcome these challenges and safely take to 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. A person with ADHD’s brain develops at a pace about one to three years behind their non-ADHD peers. The parts of the brain that are responsible for controlling impulses and emotions are affected by this, which can lead to difficulty ignoring distractions, staying focused, setting priorities, and following through on things. Along with their inability to pay attention at times, those with ADHD may also be hyperactive. This is not simply fidgetiness, but the inability to control disruptive physical activity. Intelligence is not impacted by ADHD. Some medications have been shown to improve ADHD symptoms as long as they are in a patient’s system, but they do not cure it.
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. Their condition can make learning a challenge, so it may take them longer than their peers to master the rules of the road, and they may struggle with forgetting them for a while. Likewise, they may have a hard time remembering where they put their keys or their wallet.
Once on the road, some researches have stated that ADHD drivers tend to drive like drunk drivers. Their impulsivity and poor emotional control can make them more prone to overreactions and angry outbursts at other drivers. ADHD causes drivers to be inattentive and easily distracted by things like the radio or other people in the car. This can lead to them not paying attention to the road and getting in a car accident. ADHD can also cause sleep problems, which leave drivers feeling tired and increase their inattentiveness at the wheel. They may also forget to use turn signals or check mirrors, which can lead to collisions when turning or changing lanes.
What can we do at home to help our child with ADHD be a better driver?
One thing to consider is what type of car to get. Studies involving driving simulators have shown that those with ADHD tend to be safer and get in fewer accidents when driving manual transmissions. This may be because it forces them to get more physically and thus mentally engaged, and this higher level of focus can help overcome distractibility. They may also benefit from vehicles with backup sensors and cameras, as well as collision avoidance braking systems to help decrease the risk of striking another vehicle or object.
It is helpful to set boundaries for the car. They should keep the music low, not eat while driving, and it is best if they do not have other teens in the vehicle to distract them. Above all, they should not touch their phones while driving, as this is one of the leading causes of distracted driving accidents. Cell phone use is illegal for minor drivers in Connecticut, and only hands-free devices are permitted for those over 18.
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. Sometimes, once someone starts driving, you may see that their ADHD causes them to be a potentially dangerous driver. In this case, the DMV does have a form that can be submitted by a physician, police officer, or concerned loved one that will start a process that suspends their license until they are medically cleared to drive. This form can be found at https://www.ct.gov/dmv/cwp/view.asp?a=818&q=245036 and can be submitted anonymously. The law prohibits someone from taking legal action against you for submitting this form as long as it is done in good faith.
The best way to determine a person’s driving ability and the steps that can be taken to improve it is to schedule a consultation with a Certified Driver Rehab Specialist. They can evaluate your child’s abilities and prescribe a course of action to get them safely on the road.
What does Next Street look for when assessing patients with ADHD?
Whenever possible, we try to meet with our patients in the comfort of their own homes to carry out an assessment of their abilities. All your child needs to do to prepare is to get a good night’s sleep and eat normal meals so they have the energy to get through the visit, which can take up to two hours. They don’t need to worry about memorizing anything, this isn’t a test of their knowledge, it is an assessment of their motor skills and cognitive and visual abilities. We take the time to get to know your child’s individual situation, and while we focus in on the issues directly caused by their ADHD, we also provide a broader screening to catch any other issues that may affect their driving abilities. If this all goes well, we will recommend them for a behind-the-wheel evaluation at a later date.
Possible driving outcomes
Depending on what we find in our evaluation, we will prescribe a course of action for you
The vast majority of people with ADHD will be able to drive normally, though they may need extra time to learn how to safely drive, and they will need to learn some coping skills to keep them focused on the road. One of the biggest steps to take is to eliminate distractions like phones, loud music, or other passengers.
Restricted driving privileges
There may be some cases where your child will need to refrain from driving in more difficult settings, such as nighttime, freeways, or heavy traffic, where they need to pay extra attention to stay safe. This may just be a temporary restriction as they work to hone their driving skills, and later they will be able to drive as normal.