Teen drivers are already at a higher risk of car accident than other age groups of drivers, but those with ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, are 36% more likely than other adolescent drivers to have an accident. This information comes from a recent study from JAMA Pediatrics, although latter studies have shown even higher percentages. Some stating teens with ADHD are as much as four times more likely than their peers to wreck.
The new study was able to use larger samples of teens and rely on more efficient reporting styles than older studies, making it more dependable. Information was compiled using 18,500 electronic health records for minors from six New Jersey primary care facilities. Almost 2500 had ADHD. Although this risk is substantial, the study shows it is manageable.
A chronic condition, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, manifests itself with symptoms of hyperactivity and impulse control issues. They have substantial complications sustaining concentration and focus. These symptoms while driving can impair the driver in much the same way as if they were intoxicated. Long-distance driving is particularly risky for people with ADHD because they become easily distracted. Distracted driving is illegal and consists of anything that takes the drivers attention from the task of driving. Examples include texting, talking on the phone, tuning the radio and talking with passengers. An interesting fact that came out of the study is that most teens with ADHD do not get their licenses until they are older.
The study states there is not enough risk to change state laws relating to teens with ADHD and their driver’s licenses. Instead, parents are encouraged to make sure their child’s symptoms are manageable and they are emotionally ready to get behind the wheel. Key factors include decision-making abilities, problem-solving skills, strong communication skills and a sufficient level of responsibility to learn to drive. Driving rehab specialists are also available to work with people with disabilities that could impair their driving. Any teen with ADHD could benefit from such a service. They provide useful techniques for instances of panic or anxiety while driving and other helpful services.
The study brings on the question of if a 36% risk is too large for ADHD teens to be on the road. One Berkeley professor, Stephen Hinshaw, an expert in ADHD believes that even 1% chance will mean a lot to a victim of an accident. A person who is injured in an accident caused by a teen with ADHD, knowing that there is a risk associated with that person driving can be maddening.
One disadvantage of the study is the teens diagnosed with ADHD had been done so only by primary care physicians. No other more rigorous forms of testing had been administered. Thus, it is possible not every student labeled as ADHD actually suffered from it. It was noted by the study’s author that one factor in the rise of ADHD diagnosis is the involvement of primary care physicians in the place of specialists.
Medications are always an issue when it comes to ADHD and teens. There are varying studies both pro and con on the use of ADHD meds in teens. The study suggests all teens that drive with ADHD have a medical plan of some type in place depending on the needs of the youth. A previous JAMA study in psychology noted that teens on ADHD meds have dramatically lower car accidents than those who do not take meds.
The results of the study were not conclusive and warrant more research to gain greater insight into the risks of teens with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder behind the wheel.