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Can you learn to drive with ADHD?

When teens with ADHD are learning to drive: parent strategies

An expert explains how parents can address the risk factors that arise when impulsive or distractible teens are learning to drive.

Most parents of teens with Attention-Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are not surprised to see evidence of higher driving risks associated with having ADHD. If your teenager has ADHD, you have probably observed lapses in attention, persistence, activity regulation, gross motor control, reaction time, and rule-following behaviors in your child from an early age. Many youth with ADHD are described as “accident prone.” Others seem “spacey” and mentally wander off as they engage in activities. This does not mean that all teens with ADHD are doomed to have poor driving records, nor are they destined to become driving failures. In fact, the difference between unsafe and safe teen drivers has more to do with the parents’ behavior than you may think!

The fact is that there are many teens with ADHD who are skilled, safe drivers. These are the teens whose parents set firm limits and carefully considered all the issues involved in the ADHD diagnosis in conjunction with teen driving concerns before putting their teens with AD/HD behind the wheel. In this article, I will present specific steps you can take to help your teenager with ADHD achieve skill and safety as a driver-in-training.

Parent preparation

Even before you allow your teenager with ADHD to get behind the wheel of a car, you will want to consider and address several factors, including:

  • The possible impact of ADHD and any co-existing conditions your teen has
  • Medications your teenager takes while operating a vehicle
  • Your teenager’s maturity level and driving readiness
  • State driving laws
  • Automobile insurance coverage
  • Formal driver training
  • Supervised driving practice, including your expectations of your teen

In my book, AD/HD & Driving: A Guide for Parents of Teens with AD/HD, I outline “20 Steps for Parents to Promote Safe Driving Behaviors.” Each step is discussed in depth and includes activities for parents and teens to do together. For this article, I recommend 10 steps to get you started:

1. Model safe driving behaviors. Children are natural mimics and learn by example. Knowing this, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you a good role model?
  • Are you an informed and courteous driver?
  • Do you use your cell phone while driving?
  • Do you push or exceed the speed limit?
  • Would you be comfortable watching your teen drive as you do?

2. Address ADHD and any co-existing conditions or behavior problems your teen has that may impact his ability to drive safely. When learning to drive is compromised by mental health conditions (e.g., oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety disorders, or depression) parents and teens must make an effort to understand these complications, and work to minimize the risks involved. If your teen is involved in alcohol or substance abuse, obtaining a learner’s permit should be delayed until your teen has successfully completed a treatment program.

A word about medication

As I explained in a previous article, research studies have shown that medications to treat ADHD help drivers with the condition to be more attentive and in control of driving situations. Consider these medication tips:

  • If your teen benefits from medication, make sure he is taking the medication during the times of day or night he is likely to be driving.
  • Keep a letter from the prescribing physician to document your teen’s need for the medication, and keep the letter in the glove box of the car. Because psychostimulants taken for ADHD are categorized as controlled substances, your teen may need to produce medical documentation if ever stopped by a police officer while driving. This would apply if your teen is carrying the medication with him, or, in extreme cases, if he is subjected to a urinalysis which would reveal the medication in his system.
  • If your teen takes additional medications for other chronic disorders or occasional illness (e.g., allergies), be sure they won’t make him inattentive or sleepy while driving.
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3. Determine your teenager’s maturity and driving readiness. Young people with ADHD are often emotionally and functionally immature when compared to their peers. Teenagers with ADHD may take significantly longer to develop good judgment and a mature attitude toward driving. Teenagers who have explosive tempers, or are irresponsible or uncooperative, are not ready to drive. Parents must sign for a learner’s permit to be issued to their child. Grant permission to obtain the learner’s permit only when you and your teen are ready to assume the responsibilities involved.

Graduated licensing is one strategy that allows for 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 lifted systematically as the driver gains experience and demonstrates competence. For a thorough discussion of graduated licensing, go to http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/newdriver/saveteens.

4. Become familiar with state laws regarding teen drivers. To be a safe driver, your teenager needs to know the rules of the road and understand why he is expected to obey them.

5. Select the vehicle your teen will be allowed to use while he learns to drive. Be aware that research has shown that when teens own their own cars, their grades go down and automobile injuries go up. Consider carefully the pros and cons of the car your teen is allowed to drive.

6. Obtain automobile insurance coverage for your teenager. Select (or stay with) a reputable insurance company. With your teenager present, discuss coverage with your agent. Discuss all aspects of liability and collision insurance, considering your total family needs. Teens need to understand that citations for driving errors will increase insurance premiums. It is not in your best interest to cover these increased costs for your teen; he must learn the consequences of his driving behavior.

Obtaining ample coverage is of utmost importance in protecting yourself and your teen from financial liability for property damage and injuries to others caused by your vehicle. All parents of teenagers, but especially parents of teens with ADHD, should consider the addition of an umbrella policy for liability. Be sure that the amount of liability insurance is adequate to protect family assets in case your teen causes an accident resulting in enormous property damage or bodily injury or death of another person.

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7. Discuss safe driving expectations with your teen. Talk to him about driving every time you get a chance. Be very clear about your expectations for safe driving behavior. Create a driving contract that sets out clear expectations for your teen’s driving behavior as well as the consequences if he doesn’t live up to the agreement. Teens want to be treated as adults and are usually willing to enter into a written driving contract with parents. (If you are not willing to enforce consequences laid out in the contract, you should not draft the written document.) A written contract eliminates arguments over rules and past agreements. If your teen refuses to abide by the contract, or argues about agreements or consequences, this is a sign of immaturity and a breech of contract! Suspend driving privileges until he is ready to honor the contract. Whether or not you have a written driving contract in place, be aware all parents can have the learner’s permit cancelled if they request the state to do so. Here are some tips to help you draw up a learner’s permit driving contract (pdf).

8. Do not abdicate parental responsibility to a driver’s education class for teaching your teen how to drive safely. Teaching your teen to drive can be a very rewarding experience. Driver education courses in public schools (if they are offered) and commercial driving schools are a great way for teens to learn the rules of the road and discuss the importance of safety, but rarely do courses allow enough driving practice time for teens to develop consistency in skills. Allow your child to practice with you as often as possible, for 20 minutes or more per outing. Youth with ADHD often take longer to learn safe driving skills than teens without ADHD. Some states require documentation of at least 50 hours of practice driving time to apply for a license. That number is a minimum suggestion and has nothing to do with personal mastery of safe driving skills. Your teenager should plan to spend two or three times as many hours driving on a learner’s permit.

Use the practice driving time as an opportunity to discuss the special challenges facing drivers with ADHD. Ask your teenage driver, “Where are you focusing your attention?” and “Were you distracted just then? If so, by what?” Ask him to process the experience with you. This will help him become aware of his individual driving challenges and the need for concentration.

9. Establish an incentive system for practice driving time. Similar to other behavior incentive systems used with kids who have ADHD, this system allows teens to earn extra practice driving time for every increment of appropriate behavior at home. Teens should be warned that if they argue or become oppositional during driving instruction with you, they will lose any driving privilege that they had earned for that day.

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10. Prepare your teen for possible driving emergencies. Role-play emergency situations with him. Discuss various scenarios and tell him how you expect him to respond. For example, ask your teenager:

  • What should you do when a fire truck or an ambulance is either in front of you or behind you?
  • What if you are involved in a personal injury accident? What are the risks of moving an injured person? Stress the importance of remaining calm and still if they are the person injured.
  • Be sure your teen understands the importance of staying at an accident scene whether he is directly involved or a witness to a vehicle crash. Talk about the basic instinct to flee unpleasant situations and why all drivers involved in an accident must stay at the accident scene. Stress that the penalties for “hit and run” driving apply to teens as well as adults.
  • Role-play the scenario that your teen is stopped by a police officer for a speeding violation. Ask your teen to produce his learner’s permit, vehicle registration, and insurance papers. Be sure he knows how to respond appropriately. Arguing with or showing disrespect to an officer can be costly. Emergency phone numbers, parents’ home and office phone numbers, and coins for emergency phone calls should be placed in an envelope in the glove compartment.

Looking ahead: the driver’s license

While your teenager with ADHD is learning to drive, you need to be actively involved in setting limits and teaching him how to become a safe and responsible driver. The next article in this series will focus on issues you should consider once your teen with ADHD has learned the basics and is ready to apply for the driver’s license.

ADHD by other names and acronyms

While Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is the official term and acronym used by today’s mental health care professionals, it is sometimes referred to by other names and abbreviations. For example, it is sometimes called:

AD/HD (with a slash in the middle)

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)

References

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [Online]. (2003). National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (producer). [Cited 15 Nov 2003].
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Fatality Facts: Teenagers 2002. Arlington (VA): The Institute; 2003 [cited 2003 Nov 15].
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Dept. of Transportation (US). Traffic safety facts 2002: Young drivers. Washington (DC): NHTSA; 2003 [cited 2003 Nov 13].

ADHD and Learning to Drive

ADHD and Learning to Drive Article image

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) can make it more challenging for individuals to focus, follow instructions, and pay attention to details, which are important skills for safe driving. However, with the proper support and accommodations, many individuals with ADHD can successfully learn how to drive and become safe, responsible drivers. According to the NHS, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) affects people’s behaviour, and typically presents through: Inattentiveness, which can make focussing difficult
and/or Hyperactivity or impulsiveness, which increases spontaneity and risk-taking.

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Here are some tips that may help individuals with ADHD learn to drive:

1. Get an evaluation: If you have ADHD, it’s important to have a comprehensive evaluation to determine any specific challenges that may affect your ability to drive. 2. Consider therapy: Therapy can help improve attention, concentration, and impulse control, which are all important skills for safe driving. 3. Work with a driving instructor: A driving instructor who is familiar with ADHD can help you work through any specific challenges and develop strategies to overcome them. 4. Make accommodations: Simple accommodations, such as allowing extra time to complete tasks or breaking down tasks into smaller steps, can be very helpful for individuals with ADHD. 5. Practice, practice, practice: It takes time and practice to become a safe, confident driver. Make sure you get plenty of practice, both in controlled environments and on the road, to build your skills and confidence. 6. Be patient with yourself: Learning to drive can be challenging for anyone, and individuals with ADHD may need extra time and support to develop their skills. Be patient with yourself and trust that with practice, you can become a safe, confident driver. Remember, everyone learns at their own pace, and it’s important to work with a driving instructor who understands your needs and is supportive of your goals. With the right support and accommodations, many individuals with ADHD are able to successfully learn to drive.

Do I need to tell DVSA if I have ADHD:

You do not need to tell the DVLA if you have ADHD, unless you think it—or the medication you’re on—will affect your ability to drive safely. The best thing to do is to talk to your doctor, who can advise you further.

Resources:

ADHD UK logo

For more information about ADHD visit

Published: 14/02/2023
By: Intensive Lessons Team

ADHD and Driving

This webinar offers you peace of mind. Gayle and Ann, creators of the “Behind the Wheel With ADHD” professional training program for driving instructors, have brought their research and experience on this topic to the Edge Foundation as a new webinar just for parents! This webinar will help you keep your teen with ADHD safe behind the wheel.

What You’ll Learn

Gayle and Ann offer specific tools and strategies to help mitigate the risks and confusion associated with the new driver who experiences symptoms of ADHD.

The new parent webinar series:

  • Presents new research on the part anxiety plays in traffic safety for ADHD teens
  • Alerts you to the special dangers of distracted driving for ADHD teens
  • Explains how you can use the coaching approach to work more effectively with your ADHD teen
  • Demonstrates the latest technologies available to support your efforts as parents to mitigate distractions
  • Shows you how stimulant medications impact driving competency
  • And much MORE

The Webinar Modules

Behind the Wheel with ADHD is presented in 3 modules, lasting 50 minutes each. The Webinar is priced at $62 but for a limited time there is a 20% discount for anyone buying it through the Edge Foundation website. Click here to buy and use the coupon code EDGE for your 20% discount!

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MODULE 1 – FOUNDATIONS

Learn why your ADHD teen faces serious risks in driver safety not encountered by his/her peers. While many driving skills are thought to be acquired naturally for most, we now know that for drivers with ADHD and other executive functioning deficits, these skills need to be integrated into a program that provides specific skills training and creates new cognitive routines. We share what we have learned from the professionals and from ongoing research.

MODULE 2 – PARENTING STRATEGIES FOR NOVICE TEEN DRIVERS WITH ADHD

In this module we offer specific information on the most serious challenges to driving skill and traffic safety encountered by teens who have ADHD or other learning differences. We offer tools, strategies, and recommendations on how you as parents can coach your teen through this important training experience and keep them safe behind the wheel.

MODULE 3 – RECOMMENDATIONS AND RESOURCES FROM THE PROFESSIONALS

Finally, we offer you an in-depth presentation of useful resources and recommendations from the professionals that parents can use to help implement the strategies we suggest for enhancing the driver training experience for novice teen drivers with ADHD. We include take-aways for the important documents / templates that we recommend and professionals use.

Meet the Trainers

Gayle Sweeney and Ann Shanahan are ADHD and Executive Functioning Coaches who specialize in working with teens, college students, and young adults who have ADHD and other executive functioning issues to help them set goals and create strategies to achieve them. . As co-creators and authors of the new program Behind the Wheel With ADHD”, Gayle and Ann hope to share their passion for helping people focus on specific strengths and weaknesses in a remarkably tailored driver education experience.

Gayle and Ann were trained and certified in 2014 in the Rush Neurobehavioral Center Executive Function Skills Program© taught by Rush University Medical Center. Gayle and Ann presented “Special Risks Associated with the ADHD Driver” to the Illinois Driver Educators Association (IDEA), November 2013.

To learn more about Gayle and Ann’s ADHD-coaching practice, visit their website: www.BehindtheWheelWithADHD.com

Gayle Sweeney is a graduate from Marquette University in Business and trained at with JST Coach Training, LLC, and received training in the Coach Mentor Training Program and earned a Certificate for Advanced Coaching Skills Practicum. Gayle enjoyed a successful career in commercial real estate in Chicago with CB Commercial (now CB Richard Ellis) and then chose to stay home to raise her four children before embarking on a coaching career.

Ann Shanahan is a graduate in Psychology and Education from North Central College. She began her career as a UPS driver and was quickly was promoted into the management ranks becoming one of the first female Managers of the brown package car drivers in the North Illinois neighborhood districts. She became the North Illinois Safety Manager, responsible for the UPS training and development fleet of drivers. She has two children in college.

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