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Teen Drivers With AD/HD: Realities and Risk Factors

Marlene Snyder, Ph.D. explains why driving is especially risky for teens with AD/HD. Yet, with extra time and effort, you can help your teen become a safe and competent driver.

By Marlene Snyder, Ph.D.

Automobile crashes are the leading cause of serious injury and death among American teenagers. From national statistics, we know that two out of five deaths among teens in the United States result from motor vehicle crashes. The risk for motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16- to 19-year-olds than any other age group. In fact, per mile driven, drivers in this age group are four times more likely than older drivers to crash (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 2003).

The figures for teenage drivers with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) are even more sobering. In this first of three articles, we will examine the factors that contribute to these statistics - for teenagers in general as well as for teens with AD/HD.

Teenage Drivers: Inexperienced, Immature, and "Invincible"

Lack of driving experience, immature judgment, and the characteristic teenage "risk taking" attitude are obstacles to safe driving that all parents of teenagers should be concerned about. Driving safely is a complicated skill that takes time and practice for any teen to master. At the same time, the common teenage attitude that "nothing will happen to me" creates a situation where teens are more likely than older, more experienced drivers to underestimate the dangers in hazardous situations. For example, even though most teenagers understand that wearing seatbelts is important for safety, only 33 percent of high school students report they always wear seat belts when riding with someone else (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2001).

AD/HD Increases Driving Risk

While all parents should be concerned with the statistics on teenage drivers, parents whose teens have AD/HD need to understand how the disorder increases driving risk for their teenagers . Studies indicate that young people diagnosed with AD/HD, who often find it difficult to sustain their attention and control their impulses, have abnormally high rates of traffic violations, accidents, and instances of driving without a license. One study 1, funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, published in July, 2002, reported that of 105 people with AD/HD who were studied, about 20 percent had had their license suspended or revoked - the same number who had received 12 or more traffic citations or had caused more than $6,000 in damage in their first crash. Those figures are two to four times the norm for young adult drivers. Several research studies have shown that, compared to other teens, teenage drivers with AD/HD:

  • are more likely to have received repeated traffic citations, most notably for speeding.
  • sustain three times as many car crash injuries as teens without AD/HD.
  • are less likely to be practicing sound driving habits in their current driving performance, as reported by their parents.
  • are nearly four times more likely to have had an accident while they were the driver of a vehicle.
  • are found to be at fault for car crashes 4 times more often than peers without AD/HD.
  • are 6 to 8 times more likely to have their license suspended or revoked for poor driving behavior.
  • are more likely to have driven an automobile without adult supervision prior to becoming licensed drivers.

When you're helping your own teenager with AD/HD become a safe and experienced driver, these startling statistics suddenly become personal and can motivate you to do more to protect your own teenager from becoming another statistic! Becoming educated about the issues that put young drivers at risk and the impact AD/HD has on driving skills is the first step to helping your teen become a safe driver.

Comments from readers

"My parents had the foresight to delay my driving and also to learn on a manual transmission vehicle. "
"This really helped a lot. Thanks sooo much!"