Teen drivers with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) maintain a less consistent speed and veer out of their lane more often than teens without ADHD, according to new research that also suggests texting while driving worsens the situation.
However, the study’s mixed findings also showed that texting ADHD teens didn’t crash more than their non-ADHD, non-texting counterparts.
“Adolescents in that age range tend to have four times the rate of motor vehicle accidents (as adults), so it’s a particularly high-risk group that only gets more high-risk if you have an ADHD diagnosis,” said Jeff Epstein, Ph.D., the study’s senior author and director of the Center for ADHD at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
Before the study, the researchers had hypothesized that texting while driving would affect 16- and 17-year-olds with ADHD more than their peers without the disorder.
However, the findings revealed that the driving behavior of teens in both groups was much more dangerous when they were texting.
The small-scale study involved placing 28 new teen drivers with ADHD and 33 without the condition in a driving simulator. The simulator had a large high-definition video monitor and normal-sized steering and breaking and acceleration controls.
On the day of the simulated drive, teens who normally took ADHD medication did not take their pills.
During the 40-minute simulation, each participant would occasionally converse with the researchers via text and talk on the phone with a hands-free headset. Three times — during each conversation and during normal driving — a car or pedestrian made an unexpected move into the road and the participant had to avoid a collision.
The findings showed that having ADHD and being distracted by a call or text did not increase a teenager’s likelihood of crashing — possibly because there were too few crash opportunities to begin with, Epstein said.
However, the researchers did find that ADHD participants who were texting had the most variability in speed and lane position during the exercise.
Teens with ADHD swerved out of their lane 3.3 percent of the time while texting and 1.8 percent of the time during normal, distraction-free driving. Those without ADHD strayed from their lane during 2 percent of the texting portion of the simulation and for less than 1 percent of the time when there were no distractions.
“It really just goes to show you how much texting impairs these kids’ behavior,” Epstein said.
Flaura Winston, M.D., Ph.D., from the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia said that “everything we have points to the fact that it’s a perfect storm. Teens who are early drivers with ADHD potentially also distracted — there’s every reason to believe that that will be a problem.”
She added that parents of teen drivers with ADHD should work closely with their mental health professional, therapist or doctor to make sure the condition is properly treated — whether with therapy or medication.
Then, teens should have access to lots of practice in low-risk driving situations, and perhaps even work with a professional driving evaluator, if necessary, to make sure they’re safe behind the wheel.
Epstein said it’s “up to families talking together and talking to adolescents to let them know that this is something that isn’t permitted while driving.”
Source: JAMA Pediatrics