By Marlene Snyder, Ph.D.
Teenagers who have AD/HD can learn to be safe drivers, even though research shows their risk is higher. If your teenager with AD/HD is preparing to become a licensed, independent driver, there are several measures you can take to ensure his safety - and your own sanity!
While driving with the learner's permit, your teen was always under the supervision of an adult. Your teen is only ready to apply for a driver's license when he is ready to assume the responsibility of driving safely without adult supervision. If you are uncomfortable with the thought of your teen driving "solo," extend his driving practice period on the learner's permit. A driver's license is not something that must be earned on the birthday your state considers the "maturity date." Driving maturity and safety have nothing to do with one's chronological age!
One approach to extending the driver's training period is to use a graduated licensing system. Graduated licensing is a strategy that allows young drivers to develop safe driving skills while minimizing risk of injury. With graduated licensing, a young and/or inexperienced driver receives a provisional license to drive with specific restrictions; these restrictions are systematically lifted as the driver gains experience and demonstrates competence. To learn about the specific graduated licensing requirements in your state, visit http://www.iihs.org/laws/state_laws/grad_license.html. If graduated licensing is not available in your state, establish a set of rules that make sense to you and enforce these life-saving restrictions yourself.
It's a good idea to prepare your teen with AD/HD for the driver's license examination well in advance. Start by outlining the process of completing forms and taking the vision, written, and driving tests. Role playing the process may be especially helpful for anxious teens with AD/HD who also have co-existing learning disabilities. Discuss appropriate behavior and social skills for all aspects of the testing process (i.e., meeting the officials at the licensing department, meeting the driving examiner, etc.)
If possible, obtain copies of the forms your teen will need to fill out before taking the test, and let him practice following the instructions and filling out the forms. If your teenager wants to practice taking the driver's license exam, you can find several sample tests online.
Discuss and role-play how your teen should behave during the written driver's license exam and during the "road test." Be sure to discuss appropriate behavior in the event he should fail either portion of the test. Talk about the words that your teen should (and should not) use when communicating with the driver's license examiner. An impulsive teen with AD/HD may be especially prone to blurting out an offensive response!
Talk openly with your teenager about the serious responsibilities involved in being a licensed driver. Be clear about how the death of another person involved in an accident where your teenage driver is at fault would impact him as well as your family, the victim's family, and the community. If you have examples of local teens who are in prison because of negligent driving in fatal crashes, point them out. Teens need to understand motor vehicle homicide laws and their implications. Some parents think this is too gruesome a topic to discuss with teenagers. But as a parent, you must realize that driving is an adult responsibility - and punishment for adult irresponsibility is often difficult to face.
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