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.