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Is my teen with ADHD ready to drive?

For most teens, obtaining a driver license remains an important goal.  Parents ask me how they should approach this when their teen has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Parents correctly recognize that characteristics of ADHD – inattention, distractibility, impulsivity, and emotional regulation difficulties – may challenge a teen’s ability to learn to drive or drive safely.

Our recent research provides good news to families of teens with ADHD. Although newly licensed adolescents with ADHD may have a greater risk of crashing than other young drivers, this risk is much lower than previously reported and manageable, according to my Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia colleague Allison E. Curry, PhD, MPH and her co-authors. Adolescents with ADHD have an estimated 36 percent higher crash risk than other newly licensed teens regardless of gender or age when licensed.

How should families best manage this risk?  To start, they need to determine whether their child is ready to drive, spend extra time in a wide variety of setting during practice driving, and set clear rules (and monitor compliance) to keep them safe after the learner permit phase when driving without parent supervision. Unfortunately, the evidence base is limited for proven effective ways to keep them safe during the learning-to-drive period and beyond. As we learn more, I will share guidance, but for now, here are tips from CHOP experts in ADHD:

  • Schedule a doctor’s appointment. During the visit with your child’s primary care physician or behavioral health specialist address any concerns, such as attention, impulse control, or communication issues. Ask if there are any medical or physical issues, besides ADHD, that may make driving a dangerous prospect. Also ask about whether a stimulant medication would be appropriate to help improve focus and attention to help drive…

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