Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for teens in the U.S, and teens get in car accidents four times more often than all other age groups combined. For teens with ADHD, the risk is even greater.
ADHD amplifies the traits that make young people such high-risk drivers. Impulsivity, distractibility, high energy, and poor emotional control increase the risk of motor vehicle accidents and infractions. In fact, teens with ADHD are more likely to:
Get in car accidents.
Receive speeding tickets.
Have more than three citations on their record.
Have their license suspended or revoked.
Drive without a license.
Why do teens with ADHD have more troubled driving careers than their peers? An attention deficit makes teens less likely to have safe driving habits like coming to a full stop at stop signs, adhering to the speed limit, and signaling before turns. Furthermore, in a driving simulator they showed poorer motor control and erratic steering.
Teens with ADHD also tend to be less knowledgeable about driving laws than their peers, while simultaneously overestimating their competency. This means that teens with ADHD may be overly confident behind the wheel and fail to compensate for their condition.
However, this doesn’t mean that every teen with an attention disorder ought to be banned from driving. It’s by all means possible for teens with ADHD or ADD to become safe drivers. It just might take them longer or require more intensive practice.
It’s recommended that parents delay handing over the keys to teens with ADHD. Waiting until they’re older lets teens get a better grasp on managing their attention deficit. However, hoping teens will grow out of their ADHD isn’t the correct approach. Two thirds of children with ADHD exhibit symptoms into adulthood, so it’s important that parents talk to their teen’s doctor about medication and work with their child to develop good driving habits.
Parents should spend extra time practicing driving with ADHD-affected children. If parents don’t have the time to commit to regular sessions, enrollment in a driving school can help teens get the practice they need. However, since a driving instructor won’t know the particulars of a teen’s ADHD challenges, parents should still assess their child’s driving competency before pursuing licensure.
Even after attention-deficit teens get their driver’s license, a parent’s work isn’t over. It’s important to continually monitor a teen’s driving to make sure they’re modeling safe habits. Parents should consider gradually adding driving privileges as their teen demonstrates responsibility. An example plan might look like:
Months zero through six: Driving permitted to and from school only, with no passengers at any time.
Months six through 12: Driving permitted for school and other daytime activities. No driving at night and no passengers.
Months 12 through 18: Driving permitted for school, daytime activities, and evening activities with express permission. Limit of one passenger at a time during daylight, and zero passengers at night.
Months 18 through 24: Driving permitted any time with a limit of one passenger.
If a teen receives a moving or non-moving violation at any point, the clock resets on their current stage. A graduated plan like this one lets parents incentivize teens to be responsible drivers. It also lets teens master the basics of driving before adding potential distractions.
Beyond setting rules, parents should check in periodically to make sure their teen is retaining what they’ve been taught and not succumbing to distractions behind the wheel. Letting teens do the driving when going out as a family allows parents to check up on their teen’s skills. Teaching car maintenance is an effective way to demonstrate the value of a vehicle. A daily driving log that tracks where they went, how long it took, and what challenges were faced can help create structure and promote focus behind the wheel. Check out this article for ideas on teaching kids the basics of car maintenance.
There’s no reason that a teen with ADHD can’t become a model driver, but it’s important to be aware of the challenges of driving with an attention deficit. With a plan, plenty of patience, and ongoing monitoring, parents can help their ADHD-affected teen stay safe behind the wheel.