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Attention-deficit Disorders and Teen Driving
by Ernest J. Bordini, Ph.D.                                                                                                   Gainesville - Ocala

All rights reserved - Clinical Psychology Associates of North Central Florida              CPANCF.COM    352 336-2888

Approaching teen driving in a well-considered manner is an important part of parental responsibility. While all parents must consider the risks involved in teen driving, the problem faced by those whose teenagers have problems with attention and impulsiveness is often more anxiety-provoking. This article seeks to offer some suggestions for this important adolescent milestone.

Attention-deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a developmental disorder that is one of the most common childhood neurobehavioral disorders. It is characterized by difficulties in sitting still, paying attention, organizing, completing work, and impulsiveness.

While some of the motor restlessness sometimes resolves in adolescence or early adulthood, difficulties with attention, organizing and planning can persist. As adults, individuals with history of ADHD can have difficulties completing an education commensurate with their intelligence, change jobs more frequently, may experience marital difficulties, possible social skill difficulties and are more frequently involved in traffic accidents.

In general, the fatality rate for teen drivers is four times higher than for other drivers. This means that approximately 5000 - 6000 teen drivers die in motor vehicle accidents in the US each year, a number which has staid relatively stable in recent years. The vast majority were found to be due to driver mistakes. Despite this, less than 1/3 of all parents speak to their  adolescents about driving safely.

Some researchers have found ADHD teens have five times the number of traffic tickets than non ADHD teens. As a group they were more than seven times more likely to be involved in more than one accident. ADHD drivers were also found to be much more likely to be at fault in an accident.

Snyder (2001) has argued that the problems of adolescent drivers are less of a skill deficit, than the teens not doing what they know how to do. This may sound familiar to parents who have spent time frustrated at seeing their children fail tests on material that they have clearly mastered. Snyder feels that applying early and consistent consequences for inappropriate driving is critical. The importance of parental modeling of good driving behaviors is stressed. Do as I say not as I do, does not work for behavior in general, and certainly not for driving habits.

Snyder cautions that expectations need to be reasonable. Not only ADHD adolescents make mistakes.  It is important to hold teens responsible for their errors. A motor vehicle and insurance are for more costly to repair than the accidently broken glass that was knocked from the table. Teens must learn that the responsibility and costs of a vehicle are far in excess of any “toys” they have previously interacted with.  Snyder suggested having teens pay off fines and providing consequences for inappropriate behavior in the car when with family. For ADHD children, it may be important to make the use of the car contingent upon properly taking medications as prescribed.

It is difficult to monitor activities such as driving which occurs when you are not there. It is possible, however to monitor curfew times. Returning the car home when expected is one verifiable aspect of responsible vehicle use. Keeping track of mileage can also alert the parent to use that may be in excess or inappropriate of what has been expected or allowed. In some cases, it may be helpful to check with the parents of other teens about times and dates of activities.


Snyder listed several general principals for parents:

Start Early - talk to them about driving and driving safety before their teen years. Model the appropriate driving behaviors. Talk about driving errors and how to avoid them.

Communicate with your child about driving. In the car, talk to them why its important to use seat belts when in the care, importance of coming to a complete stop, the importance of being patient at intersections, and yielding and being aware of pedestrians.

Talk about newspaper accounts of collisions. Discuss how they may have been avoided and how the families must feel.

Don’t discourage their interests or questions. Encourage their questions. Listen to your child. Show that you are understanding how they feel, pay attention to appropriate and inappropriate statements they may make about driving.

Communicate your Values: Talk to them about the importance of safety, family/community responsibility, respect for driving rules and regulations.

Provide straightforward answers. Talk about it again. Repetition is important.

Set clear rules. With who? What activities are appropriate? Where they allowed to go? When can they go? When are they expected back?

Set limits about use of alcohol/drugs - clear consequences and restrictions.

Consistently enforce the rules.

Another approach involves using communication and technology to track or even warn your teen about bad driving habits.  Today, vehicles and children’s driving can be monitored by “black boxes”, GPS devices, computers, and even with messages about your teen’s driving sent to your cell phone in real time!  Of course there are a number of privacy issues and legal risks involved, since if there is an accident, the technology may provide evidence that will be sought. 

Consumer Reports tested two devices that monitor teen driving habits, focusing on pros, cons and privacy issues.  These Event Data Recorders (EDRs) incorporate technology used in monitoring airplane flights, but of course are much simpler and geared to the user market.  They tested the CarChipE/X with Alarm ($199) from Davis Instruments and the RS-1000 from Road Safety International ($280).  They found the added features of the more expensive model were worth the expense.  In addition to warning parents, these devices have features including alarms that can be set to sound at a variety of undesirable driving behaviors.  Trip information can be downloaded to a computer.

A low-tech approach involves placing a sticker on the back of the vehicle your teen will drive, much like some companies use to allow other drivers to report erratic driving.  In addition to possible receiving a report, this provides somewhat of a deterrent.  One such service can be accessed through http://www.tell-my-mom.com.

AAA has a number of driving simulation software programs designed with teen drivers in mind.  Aggressive driving and risk-taking are often correlated.  Overly aggressive driving may be a problem for children who are easily irritated or who have trouble with impulse and anger control.  A self-assessment form for aggressive driving can be completed on the AAA website.  Results are e-mailed back, so you may wish to have your teen take this with you present, it may even be a great opportunity for discussion.

Snyder described more specific things that parents can do to promote safe driving for their teen drivers:

1. Model Safe Driving
2. Address ADHD and co-existing behaviors that impact on safe driving
3. Determine the maturity/driving readiness of your child
4. Familiarize yourself and your teen with the State driving rules.
5. Select appropriate drivers training and materials. Reinforce lessons
6. Consider medication issues and driving safety
7. Establish incentive system for earning time to practice driving
8. Discuss safe driving expectations, create a teen driving contract.
9. Select vehicle they will be allowed to use
10. Make insurance arrangements
11. Apply for permit only when you and your teen are ready for the responsibility
12. You control the permission about taking drivers education (don’t defer to when it is offered by school.
13. Carry out and monitor drivers lessons
14. Evaluate your child’s driving skills. Provide feedback
15. Expose to more complex driving situations only after basic skills mastered. Review how to deal with various emergencies
16. When instruction and evaluation are completed satisfactorily, prepare your teen for examination
17. Negotiate new contract for when teen is licensed
18. Contact insurance carrier when teen is actually licensed
19. Allow application for license only when consistent responsible and safe driving behaviors have been demonstrated to satisfaction.
20. After license issued, continue to monitor, administer consequences, and insist agreements be kept.

Drinking and driving are a very serious concern. While ADHD children in general do not have a greatly increased risk of alcohol or drug abuse, those who have displayed conduct problems or excessive risk–taking behaviors are likely at higher risk. Snyder has developed teen driving contracts that help address these and other issues. More general information on teens and drinking can be found through some of the links at
cpancf.com, including suggestions about helping your children say no to alcohol and drugs.

Some parents may wish to use one of the teen driving contracts that can be found on publications and on the internet.


References: Snyder, J. M. AD/HD & Driving. Whitefish Consultants, Montana, 2001

Ernest J. Bordini, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and Executive Director of Clinical Psychology Associates of North Central Florida. CPANCF.COM (352) 336-2888). Dr. Bordini has a specialty in neuropsychological assessment and has been named a Distinguished Psychologist by the Florida Psychological Association. His offices offer a variety of services including the assessment and treatment of ADHD.  This article was originally published in Gainesville Family magazine and revised Dec. 2007. 
 

The University of Florida is currently conducting research concerning ADHD adolescents (and controls) who have never driven.  Contact Miriam Monahan, MS OTR  UF Department of Occupational Therapy.


 

The author of this article and Clinical Psychology Associates of North Central Florida neither endorse or make warranties of any kind regarding any of the products or books mentioner or linked.

 

 

 

 

 
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