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Is Your Teen with ADHD Safe to Drive?

Updated: Apr 25

car on highway with other cars

Disclaimer: The content of this blog post is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Consult a qualified healthcare professional for personalized advice.

The biggest thing for parents is to know their children are safe, and when kids start to drive, parents get scared. Justified! BUT! If you have a child who has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) who is learning to drive, you need to be concerned...

This article from ADDitudemag cites that teens (and adults) who have ADHD are significantly more likely to be convicted for speeding, not obeying signs and signals, driving without a license, following too closely, improper passing, and not following road markings. This doesn’t mean that your teen will never be able to drive. And, don't worry - it doesn't mean you are going to be the taxi driver forever. By taking some time to learn how tot support them, you can help your teen learn about safety, set driving rules and teach them how to drive effectively.

Tip 1 - It's About Your Supporting Role

In a 2019 study published in Pediatrics, researchers found that delaying driving by one year didn't actually make a difference in decreasing accidents or safety issues for teens with ADHD. Instead, the research highlighted the key role parents play in the process. While experts still debate the topic of delaying driving for teens with ADHD, the study showed the best strategies for preventing accidents have to do with targeted skills training, longer periods of driving restrictions with more practice than their peers, and parents being involved in shared decision-making about when and how their teens drive (drivign agreements or contracts). Teens with ADHD can be safe drivers and you play a key role.

Tip 2 - Target Skill Development

Driving requires a lot of executive function skills. A lot. So what will help your teen learn the skills required for driving? The same thing that routines provide for them: practice. It is better to start training as soon as your teen can get their learner’s permit, so they can have the maximum number of supervised hours, and to restrict independent driving until they have been exposed to enough practice. If you are unable to drive with your teen, find an adult who can so that your teen gets in significant hours of practice. As they get closer to the test, sign them up for a driving course. This will maximize the learning and practice they already did and the instructor can fine tune their driving habits and focus on the elements of the road test.

Tip 3 - Meds Make It Easier for Safe Driving

If driving requires many executive function skills, which are located in the pre-frontal cortex, and if this is the area of the brain affected by ADHD, and if medication helps ADHD'ers use that part of the brain... then it would seem logical to conclude that medication is helpful to teens with ADHD require the skills they need to be safe drivers.

Tip 4 - Make It Positive

In their article for recommendations, Aduen et al., state parents should plan to practice more than they think they will need to: Teens with ADHD tend to overestimate their driving abilities (Fabiano et al., 2018), and as a result, parents not spend enough time or sharing strategies for helping teens learn to drive. Evidence from videotapes of parents teaching their teen with ADHD to drive show an over-reliance on critical comments and an under-usage of positive comments for appropriate driving (Schatz et al., 2014). To increase your teen's understanding of what is required, postive feedback will work most effectively. If you get emotional or yell, the teen won't know what they did wrong or remember the information you tried to share. They will be focused on your emotions. So, all in all, they need the practice. They may not think they need the practice. You need to give positve feedback as much as possible so they know exactly what they're doing right.

Tip 5 - Put Technology Away

Turn off the techy parts of the vehicle if you can. AND, most important, model for your teen the importance of having the cellphone put away and out of reach. As you probably already know, the cellphone is too much of a tempting distraction. So train and help your teen create a habit of keeping the cell phone out of reach. It only takes 2 seconds to look away from the road before an accident occurs.

*If you have technology in your car that interrupts cellphone messages from being delievered to a display screen, defintely use that!

Tip 6 - Create an Agreement

You might know this already... a teen with ADHD will function better with clear expectations, routine, consistency, and up front rewards and consequences. There are many ways to go about doing this. Here are a few parent-teen driving agreement examples for you to use or consider as you make your own:

Parent-Teen Driving Agreements:

Stick With It and Cross the Finish Line

When all is said and done, you may have put in more time talking about driving rules and practising driving than other parents, but when you can feel confident that your teen has the skills necessary to be a safe driver and they understand the terms of their safe drivign contract, you will be able to release fear and sink in to the comfort of reassurance, knowign you have done everythign you could to support and guide your teen.

Do you have experience with this? Comment below!

Questions? Fill out the Dear Rolynda form

Thanks for being here,

Rolynda Simpson. M.Ed, CCC

Owner and Clinic Director

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