These days, Americans spend so much time behind the wheel that we forget how complex driving is - especially for people with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD). Motorists with ADHD are four times more likely than others to be involved in accidents and to be ticketed for speeding or for running a stop sign. (ADHD motorists are also more likely to run out of gas - so get into the habit of checking your gauge each time you start the car.)
What can motorists with ADD do to stay safe? Medications that improve focus and attention are a big help, as long as your dosing schedule keeps symptoms "covered" at all times. If you take a short-acting drug, you'll probably need to take it several times a day. Even then, as the level of medication in your bloodstream waxes and wanes during the day, so will your symptoms. Driving can be especially dangerous late in the evening, as the final dose of medication wears off.
If you do a lot of driving - especially at night - consider speaking to your doctor about switching to a long-acting medication. Recent studies have shown that one dose of a long-acting drug often works better than multiple doses of a short-acting drug at boosting the performance of motorists with ADD.
What else can you do? Obviously, it's smart to wear your seat belt, to avoid drinking and driving, to avoid rush hour whenever possible, to leave enough time that you don't have to speed. But mostly, safe driving boils down to minimizing distractions:
- Think twice about carpooling. Carpooling saves gas, of course, but for someone with ADD, a car full of noisy kids can be dangerous. Let someone else shuttle the kids to school, soccer practice, and so on. If necessary, hire someone to drive the kids for you. Carpooling with adults typically poses less of a problem.
- Don't be a deejay. Listening to music seems to aid focus in some people who have ADD. If you like to listen to music while driving, pick one radio station or one favorite CD or tape, and set the volume, balance, and so on before starting off. If you want to switch stations or pop in a new CD, find a safe place to pull over. Not long ago, the daughter of a friend of mine lost control of her car while changing CDs. Her car veered off the highway and rolled over. She died instantly.
If others in the car are watching a video, make sure you can't see the screen. Even hearing the audio might take your mind off the road, so ask your passengers to keep the volume at a low level or to wear headphones.
- Sign up for automatic toll systems. If your car is equipped with an E-Z Pass tag, you won't have to hunt for change as you approach tollbooths. You can keep your eyes on the road as cars around you jockey to find a fast lane.
- Make sure you know where you are going. If you've never made the trip before, ask for detailed directions beforehand, or make use of an online mapping service. GPS navigation systems can be especially helpful to people with ADD, especially if yours "speaks" the directions instead of requiring you to look at a display.
- Don't eat while driving. It's hard to stay focused on the road ahead if you're struggling to get the wrapper off that energy bar. Instead, find a safe place to pull off the road to have a snack.
- Skip the cell phone. Using a phone while driving dramatically increases the risk of an accident, and hands-free phones can be just as distracting as handheld ones. If you need to answer or place a call, pull off the road.
Safe driving is up to you. Recognize the extra risk you face - and do all you can to ensure your own safety and that of others. Your friends would probably rather drive than ride with you if you don't have your ADD under control. Given the statistics, can you blame them?