Why is driving with ADHD dangerous?
Adolescents and Adults with ADHD are at greater risk for driving difficulties due to increased inattention and hyperactivity.
One study found that younger drivers with ADHD were up to 2-4 times more likely to have car accidents than other drivers – of the same age – without ADHD.
One driving instructor who works with people with ADHD discussed how attention plays a role in the driving deficits. First of all, people with ADHD have trouble focusing on both pedestrians and other drivers on the road at the same time and deciding where to shift their attention. Second, due to impulsiveness and hyperactivity, adolescent drivers with ADHD are more likely to speed and engage in risky behaviors which can cause accidents.
Driving is an activity many people in society must take part of to get to work, school or to do errands. At times, it can be easy to forget that driving is something that requires concentration and vigilance.
Especially for people who suffer from attention problems, drivers must take caution.
Adolescent Drivers with ADHD on the Road
4.Cannot pay attention (bored easily)
Adult Drivers with ADHD on the Road
1. More likely to exceed the speed limit
2. Less ability to control vehicle (hands off wheel, car in wrong gear)
3. Frustration and anger (at other drivers)
4. Easily distracted
Examples of Driving Issues with ADHD
First hand accounts from adolescents with ADHD learning to drive describe “freak outs at busy intersections” and distraction at red lights. Another adolescent driver described intense aggression (road rage). This person had to learn to control their impulses and remain calm when feeling angered behind the wheel .
Due to inattention, drivers with ADHD tend to make poor judgements and overestimate their driving abilities. They are particularly at-risk for accidents during periods of dull driving (such as long-distance driving or on the highway).
Drivers with ADHD do not necessary commit more intentional driving violations than drivers without ADHD. When comparing drivers with ADHD to drivers without ADHD, neither group was more likely to break laws intentionally. However, drivers with ADHD were more likely to make accidental mistakes when driving. Not every driver with ADHD makes impulsive decisions and drives over the speed limit but drivers with ADHD must be extra attentive.
Studies which compare drivers with ADHD to drivers without ADHD have found that these differences in their skills are present from when they get their licenses. Examples of driving issues new drivers with ADHD had include trouble with changing speed and lane position (these both require attentiveness). Young adults with ADHD are more likely to engage in driving risks, act impulsively and are more vulnerable to distractions than drivers without ADHD.
Strategies for Drivers with ADHD
1. Adolescents just getting their license should spend more time practicing or get a driving instructor (to get more comfortable behind the wheel). (10)
2. Keep the radio off/ cell phone on silent as to not get distracted during “dull driving”
3. Breathing in and out when feeling angry towards another driver on the road
4. Don’t overestimate driving skills
5. Remain vigilant when driving with a group of friends
3. Rosenbloom, T., & Wultz, B. (2011). Thirty-day self-reported risky driving behaviors of ADHD and non-ADHD drivers. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 43(1), 128-133.
4. Barkley, R. A., & Cox, D. (2007). A review of driving risks and impairments associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and the effects of stimulant medication on driving performance. Journal of safety research, 38(1), 113-128.
5. Narad, M., Garner, A. A., Brassell, A. A., Saxby, D., Antonini, T. N., O’Brien, K. M., … & Epstein, J. N. (2013). Impact of distraction on the driving performance of adolescents with and without attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. JAMA pediatrics, 167(10), 933-938.
6. .Merkel Jr, R. L., Nichols, J. Q., Fellers, J. C., Hidalgo, P., Martinez, L. A., Putziger, I., … & Cox, D. J. (2016). Comparison of on-road driving between young adults with and without ADHD. Journal of attention disorders, 20(3), 260-269.
7.Reimer, B., Mehler, B., D’Ambrosio, L. A., & Fried, R. (2010). The impact of distractions on young adult drivers with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Accident Analysis & Prevention, 42(3), 842-851.
9.Groom, M. J., Van Loon, E., Daley, D., Chapman, P., & Hollis, C. (2015). Driving behaviour in adults with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. BMC psychiatry, 15(1), 175.