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Teen Drivers with ADHD More Likely to Get into a Crash

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A recent study warns that young drivers with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are at a greater risk of getting into automobile accidents than their peers without ADHD.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines ADHD as a group of disorders affecting children and adults that change brain functions and related behaviors. Typical symptoms include difficulty maintaining focus, excess movement, and impulsive behavior. It’s more common in boys than in girls.

Researchers Analyze Data in Pennsylvania and New Jersey

Increased Car Crashes in Teens with ADHDAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Pennsylvania has one of the higher rates of ADHD in the country, with 11.2 percent of youths between the ages of 4-17 diagnosed with this condition.

The study, published on June 12, 2017, in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), reported that young drivers with ADHD are more likely to get into a crash than other young drivers.

The researchers analyzed data from a large pediatric health care network in southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey that includes six primary care practices of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. They identified 2,479 adolescents and young adults with ADHD and 15,865 without the disorders. All were age-eligible to get a driver’s license between 2004 and 2014.

They then looked at who actually followed through to get a license and who became involved as a driver in a police-reported crash.

Study Finds Those with ADHD More Likely to Crash

Results showed that compared to those individuals without ADHD, those with this condition were less likely to get a driver’s license. Among those who did get a license, 42.8 percent crashed during the study period, compared to 35.7 percent of those without the disorder. After analyzing those results, researchers concluded that the risk for a first crash among licensed drivers with ADHD was 1.36 times higher than for those without ADHD.

“Adolescents with ADHD get licensed less often and at an older age,” the researchers explained, and “[o]nce licensed, this cohort has a greater risk of crashing.”

ADHD Drivers More Vulnerable to Distractions

The researchers didn’t address distracted driving. But previous research has shown that teens are more likely to use cell phones and other gadgets while behind the wheel than older drivers. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) reports that teenagers comprise a higher-risk group of distracted drivers because they’re more likely to text and drive, and to speed.

Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) explains that teens and adults with ADHD “have many of the same challenges with inattentiveness and distractibility while driving,” and must be aware of how their symptoms may affect their driving. Things like risk-taking, thrill-seeking, inattention, impulsivity, and poor judgment can all be symptoms of ADHD, and can all affect driving risk.

Because these drivers are more vulnerable to distractions while behind the wheel, CHADD advises them to leave cell phones and devices out of sight and turned off, and to talk to their doctors about medication, which can help reduce the risk of negative driving experiences.

The AAA Foundation has also reported on the incidence of distraction and teen crashes. It published a video analysis showing that distraction was a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes. Common sources of distraction included cell phone use, grooming, and interacting with one or more passengers.

A 2017 study of more than 2.3 million people showed that car accidents occur at a dramatically lower rate among ADHD patients taking medication to control their symptoms compared to ADHD patients not taking medications.

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