Teens, Behind the Wheel with ADHD

Health Writer

Learn tips to help minimize distractions and promote safe driving habits by taking into account the following tips.

Automobile accidents are the number one cause of death in 16-20 year olds. According to "The Teen Driver" published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, there are 5,500 deaths and 450,000 injuries as a result of motor vehicle accidents involving teenagers. Futher, the article states that teens with ADHD are "2 to 4 times more likely to be injured in a motor vehicle crash than are their peers without ADHD."

Additional risks for teens with ADHD include:

  • Have more speeding citations (as many as 3 times more than non-ADHD teens)
  • Are more likely to cause bodily injury in accidents
  • Are more likely to have their driver's license suspended or revoked

Safe driving requires certain skills: attention to detail, the ability to focus and sustain attention. It requires the driver to be disciplined enough to eliminate or ignore certain distractions. For anyone who has driven a car, you know that becoming distracted - even for a split second - can be disastrous.

Many states are taking steps to decrease the statistics involving teen drivers. Some have begun a graduated driver license system: learners permit, intermediate license and full license. This system requires teens to demonstrate responsible behavior while driving before moving on the next stage.

Parents can help their teens minimize distractions and increase safe driving habits by keeping the following in mind:

  • Require that the cell phone be kept in the glove compartment, turned off, while driving. Set an example for your teen by never answering your cell phone while behind the wheel. Instead, if you are driving and must take a call, pull over somewhere safe while talking on the phone.

  • Insist that your teen choose one radio station to listen to while driving and make a rule that they may not change the station while behind the wheel. Use CDs to eliminate the need to switch radio stations while driving.

  • Decide if you want to allow your teen to have passengers in the car with them. Passengers can be a major distraction and the more passengers, the more the distraction. Be sure you are always aware if your teen will be driving with someone else in the car and choose carefully who will sit in the front seat. Some parents set a rule that no more than one passenger can be in the car at any time while their teen is driving.

  • Try to eliminate driving during rush hours. Plan trips so that your teen is driving during off-peak times and plan routes to avoid major freeways.

  • Allow plenty of time for your teen to get where they need to go. Being in a hurry or rushing to arrive on time can be an accident waiting to happen. Have your teen always leave a few minutes early to allow for traffic or weather, and be calm on the road.

  • If going on a trip, plan the route in advance or use a GPS system so that your teen is not trying to read a map or figure out directions while driving.

  • Set a curfew for your teen to be in the house before midnight.

  • If you do not feel your teen is ready to drive on their own, put off allowing them to get their drivers license until you feel they are ready. Require that your teen complete a Drivers Education Course before allowing them to get their drivers license.

Create a written driver's agreement between you and your teen. Spell out your limitations and expectations in the contract and list the consequences if your teen does not follow the contract.

Finally, the use of medications for ADHD has been found to improve driving performance in teens with ADHD. The medication decreases errors caused by inattentiveness. Medications that are long acting have been found to be better in improving driving skills than the short acting medications.


The Teen Driver, PEDIATRICS Vol. 118 No. 6 December 2006, pp. 2570-2581

Do Medications Help Young ADHD Drivers Ignore Real Life Distractions?, Science Daily, 3 May 2007, University of Virginia Health System

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, 23, October 2007, National Institute of Mental Health