ADHD drivers pose challenge

They’re more likely to get in accidents, but firm guidelines can keep teens safe behind the wheel

Special to The TribuneNovember 5, 2013 

ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS ILLUSTRATION

All parents are concerned when their teens start to drive. But parents of teens with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder have added anxieties. And for good reason. Statistics show that a teen driver with ADHD is up to four times more likely than other adolescent drivers to be involved in an accident and three times more likely to sustain an injury from that accident. They’re also four times more likely to be at fault when an accident happens and eight times more likely to have their licenses suspended because of multiple violations.

Teens with ADHD are at an increased risk for drug and alcohol abuse. A study conducted by Brooke S.G. Molina of the University of Pittsburgh found that 14 percent of the 15- to 17-yearolds with ADHD either abused alcohol or were alcohol dependent . Only 5 percent of the non-ADHD adolescents engaged in those activities.

It’s not that teens with ADHD are inherently poor drivers. Their symptoms of impulsivity and distractibility interfere with their judgment and performance.

They may also be less mature than their non-ADHD peers. The National Institute of Mental Health compared brain scans of boys and girls with and without ADHD and found that children with ADHD developed slower in the regions that controlled decision making, inappropriate actions and attentiveness.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a combination of medication and behavioral therapy for adolescents with ADHD. Stimulants are the most common type of medication prescribed. Medication doesn’t cure ADHD, but it can relieve symptoms while it’s being taken. Extendedrelease stimulants last 8 to 12 hours and are usually taken just once a day.

According to Dr. Daniel Cox from the University of Virginia Health System, “Individuals with ADHD drive significantly safer when taking the medication than when not taking medication.” But he adds that medication “only improves driving when the individual has it in their body at the time of their driving.”

Cox says accidents are more likely during summer months, weekends and evenings when teens are less likely to be on medications or when effects have worn off.

TIPS FOR PARENTS OF DRIVING TEENS WHO HAVE ATTENTION DEFICIT HYPERACTIVITY DISORDER

Know you are in charge. You have the authority to create rules and policies as you see fit. If young drivers argue or resist them, you can revoke the privilege to drive.

Write out a contract. Specify what teen drivers need to do and what you will do in return.

Require the teen driver to take medication as prescribed.

State a few clear rules. Possible rules may include: No cellphone use at any time while driving. No eating in the car. No other teens in the car. Music at low volumes. Radio stations preset. Absolutely no alcohol. Consider printing the rules on a small decal and posting them inside the car.

Require teens to complete a log each time they drive. The log can record such data as medication (if prescribed, when was it taken?), destination, route/miles, odometer reading, time left/returned.

Allow teens to have more independence as they demonstrate appropriate competence and self-control. At first, you may limit teens to daylight driving. After six months, if they have followed the rules and are driving safely, you might allow them to stay out until 9 or 10 p.m. In another six months, they may be allowed to drive freely.

Allow ample time to get where they are going. Being in a hurry is an accident waiting to happen. Encourage teens to allot extra time for traffic or bad weather.

Plot the route in advance. It’s distracting to fumble with Google Maps or a GPS while driving. Advise young drivers to know where they’re going before leaving home.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit http://lindalewisgriffith.com.

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