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  • Shamieh Law

ADHD and Driving

Adapted from Shamieh Law's guide.


ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition associated with inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. These symptoms put ADHD teens and adults at heightened risk for motor vehicle crashes. Researchers have found that those with ADHD are more likely to become distracted, which leads to preventable car accidents. In the interest of public safety, Shamieh Law has compiled this guide to ADHD and driving. 


ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, is one of the most common conditions diagnosed in childhood. For many people, its effects are lifelong. Those with ADHD experience the world differently—they tend to be more easily distracted and impulsive than their peers. These symptoms pose a significant challenge to ADHD teens and adults who get behind the wheel.


Those with this condition are more likely to drive recklessly, receive traffic tickets for moving violations, and get into car accidents. To avoid citations, injuries, or fatal crashes, ADHD teens and adults must understand and address the risks of driving with this condition. They should also adopt new habits to promote road safety. The team at Shamieh Law invites you to review our guide to ADHD and driving to learn more. 


How Does ADHD Affect Driving? 

Studies of adults with ADHD have identified a significant relationship between ADHD and car crashes. Scientists observed that those diagnosed with this condition were more likely to take risks, make errors in judgment, and violate traffic laws—intentionally and accidentally. In 2023, one study found that this risk persists into old age. Adults with ADHD between the ages of 65 and 79 were 102 percent more likely to get a traffic ticket and 74 percent more likely to crash their cars. 


These statistics reflect ADHD’s effect on executive function: the ability to reason, make decisions, and finish complex tasks. Proper executive functioning allows you to focus on a goal while filtering out distractions. It also empowers you to take in information and adjust your behavior accordingly. ADHD interferes with these abilities.


  • Inattention – Ignoring details, failing to follow directions, struggling to concentrate, and avoiding tasks that require extended periods of attention.

  • Hyperactivity and impulsivity – Fidgeting or squirming, talking excessively, struggling to wait, experiencing emotional outbursts, becoming easily frustrated, and interrupting others.


You can see how these symptoms impact road safety. In the context of driving:

  • Inattention to detail results in missed road signs, including stop signs and speed limit changes.

  • Lack of concentration causes preventable accidents.

  • High levels of daytime drowsiness may make ADHD drivers fall asleep at the wheel.

  • Distractibility increases the likelihood of checking devices, multitasking, and looking away from the road.

  • Impulsivity causes drivers to overestimate their abilities and take unnecessary risks, which can lead to injury or death. Studies show that those with high levels of impulsiveness may also be more prone to road rage.


In-vehicle distractions like cell phones, large displays, loud music, and rowdy passengers compound these challenges. If you or someone close to you have ADHD, consider taking safety measures to reduce the risk of accidents.


Signs That ADHD Is Affecting a Person’s Driving

In a car, drivers may experience four kinds of distractions: visual, auditory, manual, and cognitive. Seeing something brightly colored, hearing a phone notification, taking your hands off the wheel, or thinking about something else can all cause accidents. Identifying the symptoms of distracted driving keeps you and your loved ones safe on the road. 

Signs that ADHD may be affecting a person’s driving include:


  • Forgetting to check blind spots

  • Making unsafe lane changes

  • Ignoring speed limits and other signs

  • Rubbernecking

  • Turning to look at passengers

  • Texting or talking on the phone

  • Trying to use social media in the car

  • Struggling to focus during long trips

  • Taking photos or videos while moving

  • Reaching for items in the floorboard or back seat

  • Falling asleep after driving for several hours

  • Losing control of the vehicle

  • Adjusting cabin controls constantly

  • Failing to stay in a lane

  • Missing stoplight changes

  • Attempting to multitask

  • Receiving multiple traffic tickets

  • Getting into preventable accidents


If you notice these behaviors in yourself, a friend, or a family member, it may be time to speak with a clinician about ADHD and driving.


Getting a Driver’s License With ADHD

Teenagers and adults with ADHD can still get their driver’s licenses—they just need extra preparation. If you’re the parent of a teen with ADHD, begin educating your child on the rules of the road as you drive. Once they’ve learned the basics, ask them to describe the maneuvers. Before they get behind the wheel, consult with your family doctor. A physician may recommend medication to improve your child’s attention or uncover issues unrelated to ADHD, such as poor eyesight.


When your child is ready to start driving, enroll them in an educational program. If possible, find an instructor specializing in driving rehabilitation. These experts help folks with disabilities and special needs to meet state testing requirements. Practice with your teen as often as you can and reinforce positive behaviors. Emphasize the importance of reducing distractions, especially while they’re still honing the instincts required for safe driving.

Lastly, let your teen take their time instead of pressuring them to get licensed as soon as possible. Permit-holding teenagers who participate in regular driving practice are 39 percent less likely to get into an accident. The longer they practice, the better their outcomes.


Teen Drivers With ADHD

Even after getting their licenses, teenage drivers can pose a serious threat to themselves and others. Teens aged 16 to 19 are at a higher risk for motor vehicle crashes than any other age group. In many instances, inexperience and distraction are responsible for injuries and fatal accidents. 


Since the brain centers responsible for executive function do not develop fully until your mid to late 20s, teens are more likely to be distracted than adults. The effects of this are exacerbated in teens with ADHD. Researchers found that newly licensed drivers with this condition were 36 percent more likely to crash their cars. For this reason, experts recommend that parents and caregivers provide increased support to teens with ADHD preparing to get behind the wheel.


This additional support may look like:

  • Setting strict rules about how many passengers your child can transport.

  • Telling your teen not to drive while drowsy.

  • Teaching them to minimize distractions in the car.

  • Practicing for more challenging situations, such as driving at night or in the rain.

  • Discouraging substance use, especially when planning to drive.

  • Taking more time to educate your child about speed limits, road signs, and other driving laws.

  • Talking to your family doctor about ADHD medication.


Teen Drivers With ADHD

People with ADHD may find relief through prescription medications. Stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin boost dopamine and norepinephrine neurotransmission in the prefrontal cortex, the brain structure responsible for executive function. Because these prescriptions alleviate ADHD symptoms, scientists believe they can also reduce unsafe driving behaviors associated with the condition. 


A landmark study published in JAMA Psychiatry analyzed data from 2,319,450 adults with ADHD across the United States. Each participant had gone to the emergency department after a motor vehicle crash. Researchers found that medication decreased the risk of accidents. Medicated men were 38 percent less likely to be involved in crashes, while medicated women were 42 percent less likely to get into accidents. They concluded that medication could have prevented up to 22 percent of car crashes involving patients with ADHD.


Safety Tips for Those Driving With ADHD

Whether you are taking prescription drugs or not, there are steps you can take to drive safely with ADHD. Learn how eliminating distractions, making plans, and leveraging technology can make a difference—whether you are commuting through or taking a cross-country trip.


Limit Distractions

Remove distractions from your vehicle. Silence and put away your cell phone before driving. If you find yourself frequently adjusting the radio, set up a playlist that you enjoy before taking off. Set your climate controls, adjust your mirrors, put on your sunglasses, and make any other preparations before putting your vehicle in gear. If you have a hard time remembering what you need to do, create a checklist for each time you get in the car. Eventually, these safety habits will become second nature.  


Drive Smart

When on a multi-hour drive, plan out your stops and route ahead of time. Take regular breaks to eat and stretch your legs. Follow a familiar or straightforward route to avoid glancing at your map app while on the road. Control the gas and brake pedals yourself without relying on cruise control, which is associated with a 10 percent increased risk of fatal accidents


You can also utilize an “active scanning procedure,” a method that redirects your attention to various components of your vehicle and surroundings. Active scanning involves regularly glancing at things like side mirrors, the rearview mirror, your speedometer, and the traffic around you. Between each step, check the road ahead. This type of guided driving keeps your mind from wandering from the task at hand, especially when you’re driving on long stretches of highway for multiple hours. 


Take Advantage of Safety Features

Most modern cars are equipped with safety features to prevent distracted driving. Familiarize yourself with your steering wheel controls, and always wear your seatbelt. If you find yourself looking at your “heads-up display” more than the road, try dimming or deactivating it. Finally, consider purchasing a car with a manual transmission, which studies show may be beneficial for those with ADHD.


Support From Family Members and Loved Ones

Though many people believe passengers are distracting, data suggests that having someone in the passenger seat can actually enhance safety, provided they avoid negatively influencing the driver’s concentration. Though the presence of fellow teens is associated with increased accident risk, responsible adults in the passenger seat can be helpful for inexperienced drivers.


If the driver needs directions or wants to turn up the air conditioning, you can take care of that for them. You may also hold them accountable on longer drives. If they start to miss cues or look away from the road, encourage them to take a break. Point out road hazards and help keep them alert as necessary. 


As a friend or family member of someone with ADHD, you can also influence their behavior when you’re not in the car. If they are on a prescription drug, ensure they take it as directed. Parents of teens with ADHD may benefit from setting reminders or correlating medication with a specific daily activity, like eating breakfast. This type of structure promotes a consistent routine. 


Finally, talk with your loved one about their condition. Open and honest conversations serve two purposes. They help your family member feel supported and allow you to identify any worsening symptoms. Together, you can work to manage their condition and ensure their safety.


Stay Safe on the Roadways

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the average American spends 55 minutes a day behind the wheel. Of course, when driving, safety should be the number one priority. While teens and adults with ADHD face greater risks on the road, they can take steps to develop safe driving habits. Reducing distractions, leaning on loved ones, and working with medical professionals all improve the chances of arriving at each destination safely.

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