Driving While Distracted: Tips for Teen Drivers with ADHD

The National Safety Council notes that half of all teens will be involved in a car crash before graduating from high school. The primary cause: inexperience. They indicate that:

“Contrary to popular belief, teens crash most often because they are inexperienced. They struggle judging gaps in traffic, driving the right speed for conditions and turning safely, among other things.”

Teen drivers with ADHD or similar learning challenges face even greater risks and need to develop driving habits that will help keep focused while on the road and out of harm’s way.

Driving with ADHD Can Be Dangerous

The data on the risks faced by drivers with ADHD, especially teens, are sobering. According to ADHD / executive functioning coaches Gayle Sweeney and Ann Shanahan, several research studies have shown that, compared to other teens, teenage drivers with ADHD are:

  • more likely to have received repeated traffic citations, most notably for speeding
  • at risk to sustain three times as many car crash injuries as teens without ADHD
  • less likely to be practicing sound driving habits in their current driving performance, as reported by their parents
  • nearly four times more likely to have had an accident while they were the driver of a vehicle
  • found to be at fault for car crashes four times more often than peers without ADHD
  • six to eight times more likely to have their license suspended or revoked for poor driving behavior
  • more likely to have driven an automobile without adult supervision prior to becoming a licensed driver

Fortunately, there are strategies that teen drivers can employ to help significantly mitigate these risks.

Developing Good Habits can Help

Wes Crenshaw, PhD, has the following excellent tips for teen drivers with ADHD that can help them remain safe behind the wheel.

  • Enroll in a defensive driving course. Defensive driving teaches you to stay constantly vigilant about your own driving and that of others. In essence, it is a mindful driving program. Defensive driving works because it encourages you  to stay focused.
  • Limit distraction. Distractions while driving can be a problem for any driver, but especially if you have ADHD.  These includes talking on the phone, eating messy food, fiddling with your iPad, and texting. Recent research on voice-activated devices (like Siri or GPS voice command) suggests that they are also potentially very distracting and dangerous. A good practice is to lock your smartphone in the trunk while driving.
  • Use a “pre-flight” checkist before you drive. You should take a quick walk around the vehicle to be sure it’s ready to go. Tires inflated? Doors closed? Then go through a mental checklist of all that needs to be done before you leave. Buckle up, adjust the mirrors, set the air conditioner or heater, make sure your seat is where it belongs, check for warning lights on the dash. Ask yourself if everything is as it should be before you pull out for your destination.
  • Use cruise control. Use cruise control on any open road when driving over 40 mph, assuming traffic allows. Cruise control reduces your crash risk by keeping you traveling at a safe speed, and lowers your number of speeding tickets, as long as you keep track of different speed zones.
  • Use GPS wisely. GPS can helps you find your way to a destination, and reduces the habit of being late. However a GPS device that requires you to manually interact with it is a dangerous distraction. Instead, get a device such as Garmin, Magellan, or TomTom and have it installed by the dealer when you buy your car.
  • Get a copilot. When possible, have another person with you in the car who can take care of navigation or keep an eye out for changes in speed limit or incoming hazards.

Driving Safety for ADHD Teens – NBC News

Resources

Below are some resources that can help parents and teens understand and reduce the risks for driving with ADHD.

Top Driverhttps://www.topdriver.com/2016/10/05/driving-courses-for-individuals-with-adhd/

Behind the Wheel with ADHD (webinar for parents)https://edgefoundation.org/individual-coaching/public-webinars/

Teen Driver Sourcehttps://www.teendriversource.org/tools/for_parents

Great Schools!http://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/teen-drivers-with-ad-hd/

WebMDhttp://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/childhood-adhd/features/teens-driving-adhd#1

Understood.orghttps://www.understood.org/en/friends-feelings/teens-tweens/risky-behavior/how-learning-attention-issues-can-impact-driving

Medscapehttp://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/723105

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