It’s summertime as I am writing this, and because most schools no longer offer driver’s education, many teens are taking courses now to get their permit or license. I love driving down the road, getting behind a “student driver” car (but not too close). It can be frustrating, but it is also amusing to watch them driving sooooo slowly. Trying to keep their eyes on everything around them. Being very deliberate in their turns. Putting on turn signals blocks from where they actually intend to turn. Heaven forbid they make a wrong move and have to pause (for a long while) to take in the feedback from the instructor and decide what to do next.
Do you remember when driving was not such an automatic process? When you had to think about what you were doing. When you were not familiar with tracking all the other cars around you and taking them into consideration as you drove. It was exhausting! Forget the fact that you (like me) might have learned to drive on a standard transmission car! Kids have it easy these days!
There are a myriad of traits and conditions that can impact someone’s ability to be a safe driver. Processing speed, vision, drug use, anger, impulsivity, and maturity in general. ADHD was once thought to make a teen driver 2-300% more likely to have an accident compared to their peers. Recent research suggests that the increased risk is closer to 35%. With motor vehicle crashes being the leading cause of teen death, any increase in risk is too much.
Impulsivity, inattentiveness and distractibility make driving with ADHD dangerous. If your teen has ADHD they are particularly prone to risky driving behavior such as:
- Being distracted by road signs.
- Failing to notice other drivers
- Zoning out or being distracted while sitting at a red light.
- Talking to others in the car.
- Listening to the radio.
- Responding to incoming texts and phone calls.
- Exceeding speed limits.
Consequently you are more likely to get a call from a local police officer informing you that your teen was:
- Missed a stop sign
- Following another car too closely
- Texting and driving
- Driving recklessly
- Or driving intoxicated
Unless your local driving schools offers a parent and teen driver course for teens with ADHD, it is up to you to take additional steps to reduce the risk of your teen being another negative driving statistic. Some tips to make your teen a conscientious driver include:
- Educate yourself and your teen about the impact of ADHD on driving. Being mindful of the impact of tendencies to be distracted, impulsive, emotional, or inattentive can help your teen to create habits and rules about when and how they drive.
- Set expectations and consequences for safe and risky behavior. Have a written driving contract with your teen.
- Interview the driving instructor to make sure they are a good fit for your teen.
- Ask the instructor about skills your teen needs to practice between sessions and after the course.
- Make sure your teen has experience driving in a variety of weather, road conditions, and settings.
- Have your teen check in with you before they leave to drive. Pay attention to their state of mind and know where they are going. As a team make an informed decision that they are safe to drive.
- If they take ADHD meds, are they still in their system? Teens who benefit from medication may reduce their risk, but only when meds are still in their system. Driving later in the day or evening, when medication has worn off may put them at greater risk.
- Install a distracted driver app on your teen’s phone. This will inform their friends that they can’t respond when they are driving. Then they won’t worry that their friends think they are just ignoring them (you know how that goes)
- Use a GPS tracking app to see that your teen is driving safely and going where they said they were going. Waze, Life360 and other apps will let you track your teens driving habits. There is also MotoSafety, a device you can install to track their driving behaviors.
- And of course, always be a good driving role model! Follow the rules of the road and set a good example. Teens emulate their parent’s behavior.
“Having a driver’s license is a privilege.” It is also freedom- for both you and your teen. When your teen has ADHD, it may take some additional time and effort when it comes to driver’s training. But it’s worth the investment to preserve your teen’s life, other people’s safety, and your sanity.