The thought of a teenager driving is pretty nerve-wracking as it is, adding in ADHD might make parents even more nervous. Not that there is anything 'wrong' with them, parents just might need to watch for symptoms that could cause distracted or impulsive driving.
Distracted driving can be a problem for many teens, and even adults. However, parents of children with ADHD have a very real cause for concern. Some youth with ADHD are described as "flighty." Others seem "spacey" and mentally wander off as they engage in activities. This does not mean that all teens with ADHD are doomed to have poor driving records, nor are they destined to become driving failures.
ADHD & Driving
The problem is that the skills affected by ADHD are the ones you most need for driving, says psychologist Nadine Lambert, Ph. D of the University of California at Berkeley. Teens [and adults] with ADHD are more likely than others to be careless drivers. This is not necessarily intentional, but a lot about driving is planning ahead, following through, and paying attention. All things that some teens with ADHD may lack.
Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) reports studies that have found that teens and adults with ADHD are nearly twice as likely as the general population to have had their licenses suspended. Also, according to Understood.org, teen drivers with ADHD have a 36% higher crash rate than other new drivers.
This obviously is not to say that a teen with ADHD should avoid driving altogether. These teens simply need to learn a different way of driving per se. They need additional help and tips to make sure their transition into driving is a successful and safe one.
Teaching Safety Rules To ADHD Teen Drivers
While in school, children with ADHD typically get some modifications or an IEP plan. This would be ideal for Driver's Ed as well, unfortunately, it is not an option in most cases though. This is left to parents to help their children learn at a pace that is right for them, and enlist the safety precautions and reminders in them.
Just like at school, parents can establish this at home for driving time. This is familiar to teens with ADHD who have IEP plans, or even those that recognize classroom behavior incentives. Having something they are familiar with is going to work in both their favor and their parents'. It's less for them to process because they already know it. They can focus on developing their driving skills.
Small Practice Sessions
Parents wouldn't want to take their teens out for a two-hour drive right off the bat. [Or maybe ever.] The key is for them to remain focused. Once the focus is gone, they aren't taking in as much information. 15–20-minute trips work well for this.
While driving with the teen, parents may want to take some notes. If the teen seems particularly frustrated or worried, or maybe too distracted, write it down. It is something to discuss after practice. Parents are strongly urged not to bring this up while driving, as they are already taking on so much new information.
Besides the law enforcing rules on driving, parents can also enforce their own rules. This isn't about being a disciplinarian, it's in the best interest of the child. Things like:
- No night driving until they are fully comfortable day-driving. (6 months)
- Start with consistent routes before driving all over. To school, to work, to an after-school activity, etc. This is the same route each time, with less processing going on, and more focus. They can practice their driving techniques and really get them nailed down prior to taking on the town.
- Limit passengers. More friends in the vehicle means more distractions. Keeping it down to one or two for a while may help keep their eyes on the road.
This is not something solely for teens with ADHD either. It's not uncommon for teens to get off track when they are first learning to drive. If a parent wants to enforce these rules all around on all children, that isn't a bad idea either. It also doesn't single the ADHD child out then.
Giving more grace after the first six months to a year is expected, the more they drive, the better handle they will get on it. Having them still living at home helps, as driving is a privilege and can still be used as leverage if they start or continue to be careless drivers.
Some children with ADHD may not be able to drive at the typical age of 16. It's ok. Their safety and that of those around them are much more important. Being supportive of a child who is just not quite mature enough to drive, and encouraging them to look forward to it may help. It's not that they can never drive, they just need their brains to slow down a little more first.