8 Driving Tips for People with ADHD
A little planning goes a long way toward staying safe
Driving experts say we should keep our eyes — and minds — on the road, given the serious risks of distracted driving. Yet between cell phones, music playlists and chatty passengers, the world sometimes seems bent on shifting our thoughts to anything and everything but the road in front of us. For people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the potential for danger is multiplied.
Numerous studies have found that drivers with ADHD are more likely to be ticketed for driving violations and to be involved in traffic accidents. A 2014 study concluded that serious accidents were 50 percent more likely among these drivers.
It’s easy to see why. The three chief symptoms of ADHD are inattention, impulsivity and, for some, hyperactivity, said Wyatt Fisher, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Longmont, Colorado, who works with ADHD clients.
Fisher notes teen drivers with ADHD are especially vulnerable behind the wheel. “The inattention can make teen drivers not pay attention to what's happening on the road around them,” he says. “The impulsivity can make them run red lights and change lanes quickly; the hyperactivity can make them speed and be erratic in their driving.”
Tips for staying safe behind the wheel
Fisher’s first suggestion for safer driving is simply not to do it — for just a year or two. The part of the brain associated with control and attention matures a couple of years later in teenagers with ADHD, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. That, Fisher says, means a 16-year-old with ADHD is working with the maturity level of a typical 14-year-old when it comes to two of the factors most important to behind-the-wheel safety.
Delaying the pursuit of a driver’s license for a couple of years can make a big difference, Fisher says.
Beyond that, he says, the best bet for drivers with ADHD is to think about the various ways in which they can keep their minds on what they’re doing and avoid distractions.
Here are eight ideas that can help.
Use GPS. If your car doesn’t already have GPS, invest in one made for road travel (instead of fumbling with your phone). GPS provides clear maps and verbal directions, preventing the distraction of searching for street signs, pulling out maps or trying to read printed directions. GPS devices made for cars are easier to view and follow than an app on your cell phone, which takes your eyes and fingers off the task of driving.
Set the GPS before you put the car in gear. Trying to tap your destination into the device while driving is a dangerous distraction.
Set up the music, too. Have your chosen CDs at hand, or your playlist pre-set. Set the volume to your liking. But consider the music you’re going to play carefully. Faster, more frenetic music might lead you, without even being conscious of it, to drive faster, says Andrew Marvin, assistant director of admissions at Beacon College, an accredited college in Florida for students with ADHD and learning disabilities.
Use cruise control when appropriate. It can be a big help on the open road, counteracting the impulse to speed, says Fisher.
Put the cell phone out of sight. It’s a distraction for all drivers, but especially for those with ADHD. To keep yourself from talking and driving or texting and driving, consider putting it in the trunk.
Consider a manual transmission for your next car purchase. Because of the continued shifting, the car keeps drivers actively engaged in the actual driving process, says Fisher.
Limit the number of passengers, ideally to no more than one. Conversation is a major distraction. And let them know when you need silence in order to concentrate.
Invest in extra behind-the-wheel driver training with a professional driving school. It will help pinpoint problem areas in your driving and then help you overcome them, says Marvin. “More experience for a better experience,” he advises.
Fisher agrees, saying, “The brain of those with ADHD can struggle with changes in task demand and often the brain takes a while to hyperfocus and master a task.” Extra training helps the brain reach that point of mastery.