The Link Between ADHD and Driving Risk

If you have ADHD, you know that lapses of attention can cause all sorts of problems. From making mistakes on important work projects to missing social cues to leaving dinner on the stove too long, inattention can interfere with daily life in all sorts of ways.

Never are inattentive errors deadlier, though, than when they take place behind the wheel of a car. You probably already know that ADHD can be a risk to your job prospects, your relationships, and your ability to lead a stable life – but it’s worth keeping in mind that when automobiles enter into the equation, ADHD can literally be a risk to life and limb.

The latest research on the topic of ADHD and driving comes from a study published in JAMA Pediatrics titled Motor Vehicle Crash Risk Among Adolescents and Young Adults With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

As the title suggests, the researchers studied a group of teens and young adults to learn more about how ADHD affects driving risk. Specifically, they tracked 2,479 people with ADHD and 15,685 without the disorder through the age of 25.

The researchers came back with two main findings:

  • The teens who had ADHD were 35 percent less likely to have gotten their driver licenses when researchers checked in six months after the teens became eligible to drive, suggesting that teens with ADHD get their licenses later on average.
  • Participants with ADHD were 1.35 times as likely to experience car crashes during the study, suggesting that once they do get their licenses, teens and young adults with ADHD are at higher risk for traffic accidents.

These findings add evidence for the idea that inattentive symptoms can have serious consequences when people with ADHD get behind the wheel.

Although this is one of the largest studies on ADHD and traffic accidents to date, it’s hardly the first research to suggest a link between the two. For example, a 2015 study found that adults with ADHD were more than twice as likely to commit multiple traffic violations and to be involved in multiple traffic collisions.

Along the same lines, research done this year found that drivers who have had their licenses taken away have elevated rates of ADHD. Moreover, it turns out that among psychiatric disorders, ADHD is uniquely associated with driving risk: the same study found that compared to other conditions like anxiety, depression and substance abuse, ADHD most accurately separated high- and low-risk drivers.

So if you have ADHD, none of these findings are particularly encouraging. In fact, you might even be weighing the pros and cons of selling your car by this point!

There is some good news too, though. It turns out that medication can help.

For example, a 2014 study titled Serious Transport Accidents in Adults With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and the Effect of Medication found that ADHD was indeed associated with serious traffic accidents, with male drivers being the most affected.

But the same study found that in men with ADHD, medication reduced risk of serious traffic accidents by 58 percent. And the researchers estimated that about half of the collisions among male drivers with ADHD in the study could have been avoided if the drivers had been in treatment for ADHD.

Most people who have experience with ADHD know two things:

  1. ADHD symptoms have real consequences in daily life.
  2. Medication can make a difference.

Nowhere are these points more obvious, though, than when it comes to ADHD and cars. In this case, the effects of inattention can become deadly, and ADHD medication can literally save lives.

Image: Flickr/Jessica S.

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