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Dr. Paul LatimerPretty much everyone remembers learning how to drive. What exhilarating freedom there is to get behind the wheel and be the one to decide on the destination and to no longer need parents as chauffeurs! Yes, learning to drive is a memorable time.

Of course, with freedom comes responsibility and driving can be dangerous as well. In fact, of all the potential risks facing young people, nothing is more likely to cause serious injury or death than a motor vehicle accident.

For both teenagers and adults with attention deficit disorder (ADHD), the risk of accidents is even greater. Studies show that not only do those with the disorder receive more tickets than their non-ADHD peers, but they are in four times as many accidents and are four times as likely to be at fault.

While a teen with ADHD may know all the rules of the road, he or she could have difficulty putting them into practice. Performance is what differentiates between those with attention problems and those without.

ADHD symptoms such as difficulty paying attention, impulsivity, risk-taking tendencies, immature judgment and thrill-seeking can cause problems for drivers with the disorder. The varying effectiveness of medication throughout the day can be a factor in driving ability.

As with all teens, the risk of accidents increases when other kids are in the car and there are no adults to supervise.

Parents and teenagers should discuss driving privileges together within the general context of their ADHD treatment plan and set rules and expectations for safe driving. Parents may need to understand that extra patience, supervision and time are likely to be necessary to help ensure the teen develops good perception, judgment and reaction skills.

You may want to take a free practice permit test.

Other tips for parents with ADHD children who are learning to drive, include: don’t allow your child to drive if you don’t feel safe as a passenger; give driving lessons before and after the teen gets a license; create consequences for poor driving; and observe the teen’s driving skills at different times of the day to determine when medication is most effective.

Some people find that driving contracts between parents and the teen can be effective. These should set out rules and expectations, and all terms should be agreed to by both parties.

Increased risk of car crashes doesn’t end once an ADHD driver reaches adulthood. Follow-up studies of adults with the disorder show poor driving habits continue to be more prevalent in these adults than in the general population.

Necessary skills such as the ability to focus on the road, attention to detail and the ability to pay attention for long periods of time are often areas that are very difficult for people with ADHD, regardless of age. Unfortunately, becoming distracted for a moment can cause an accident.

If you are being treated with medication for your disorder, taking the prescribed dose regularly is a good way to make sure you are able to maintain your best focus.

Some other helpful safe driving tips:

  • Keep your phone in the trunk – this way you have to stop before using it.
  • Minimize excessive background noise and music. If music doesn’t bother you, avoid having to change stations by using a playlist.
  • Try to avoid driving during rush hour. Heavy traffic can be very distracting.
  • Plan trips in advance to avoid getting lost or needing to hurry.
  • Give yourself enough time to get to places.
  • Limit the number of passengers you carry, and choose them carefully.
  • Never drive when tired.

If you are a driver with ADHD, following these simple guidelines and your doctor’s treatment advice should help you to be safe on the roads.

Dr. Latimer is president of Okanagan Clinical Trials and a Kelowna psychiatrist.

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