ADHD

Updated 04 July 2014

ADHD makes teen drivers worse

Teens with ADHD are worse drivers than their peers and texting only compounds their problems on the road, a new study shows.

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Teens with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder are worse drivers than their peers who don't have ADHD and texting only compounds their problems on the road, a new study shows.

What's more, texting behind the wheel is so distracting it makes normal teens drive as poorly as those who have ADHD, underscoring the danger to any driver of trying to text and operate a car at the same time, the researchers noted.

"Texting is on a different order of magnitude compared to other distractions. It's a concern for teens across the board, and kids with ADHD are at that much greater risk," said Dr Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioural paediatrics at Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, in New Hyde Park.

Adesman has studied the problem of texting and driving in teens, but was not involved in the current research. About half of teenagers admit to texting behind the wheel, according to a study published recently in the journal Pediatrics.

Driving simulator

About 6.4 million US children under age 18 have received a diagnosis of ADHD at some point in their lives, US health officials say. For the new study, published online on 12 August in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, researchers recruited 61 drivers who were 16 and 17 years old. About half of them had the disorder.

Kids with ADHD are frequently prescribed stimulant medication to control symptoms such as inattention and impulsivity. But since researchers say most teens drive at night and on the weekends, times when they are least likely to be medicated, the teen drivers were asked not to take the drugs.

All the teens operated a driving simulator for 40 minutes. For about half the time, researchers let them drive through urban and rural conditions without any distractions. For two 10-minute periods, they drove while talking on a cellphone or while texting with a researcher who was asking them questions from another room.

Texting and driving

Overall, teens with ADHD had significantly more trouble staying in their lanes and maintaining a constant speed than kids with normal attention. On average, they drifted out of their lanes 1.8% of the time.

Their driving records appeared to reflect these difficulties. About 17% of teens with ADHD had received at least one traffic ticket compared to 6 percent of those without the disorder.

And when they were asked to text, their driving problems nearly doubled. They strayed across the lane line or onto the shoulder about 3.3% of the time.

"That's just a heck of a lot of time for a kid or any driver to be out of their lane when they're driving," said study author Jeffery Epstein, director of the centre for ADHD at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio.

The impairments of texting were evident for all drivers. When teens without ADHD were asked to text, they spent about 2% of their driving time creeping out of their lanes, which made their distraction as severe as those with an ADHD diagnosis.

"All the kids need to stop texting behind the wheel," Epstein said. "The impact of texting is just so big that for these kids to be texting behind the wheel just poses such a danger to themselves as well as other drivers that there just needs to be not only a policy of stopping texting behind the wheel but also enforcement," he said.

Parents play a big role in reining in the problem. Adesman recommends that parents print out and get teens to sign an online pledge, such as the one available from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and use it as a way to start a conversation about the problem.

Cellphone apps

Cellphone apps or easy-to-install devices for cars that will shut a phone off when they detect that the car is moving, Adesman said.

The attention troubles of ADHD are harder to tackle, but Epstein said he's testing behavioural interventions that he hopes will help.

"The deficit that kids with ADHD seem to have is that they tend to let their eyes look away from the roadway for longer glances than do experienced drivers," he explained.

Epstein said that eye-tracking systems that sound an alarm or cause the car seat to vibrate when drivers look away from traffic for longer than two seconds may help kids become more aware of the problem and help them self-correct.

"Those are the sorts of things that would be interesting if they work out," he said.

More information

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has more about teens and distracted driving.

 

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ADHD Expert

Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation (www.gb4adhd.co.za) She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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