Ask the Experts

Q: “When Is It Safe for My Son with ADHD to Get His Driver’s License?”

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers in the U.S. The risk is even greater for teens with ADHD, who may be more susceptible to distraction and impulsivity. So when is it safe for your child to learn how to drive a car?

Drivers ed sign on car roof at stoplight in daylight
Drivers ed sign on car roof at stoplight in daylight

Q: “My son is 14 and heading to high school next school year. In our state, teens can get a driver’s permit at 14 and, if they take a Drivers Ed course, they can get their license one year after getting a permit. Any advice on getting a driver’s permit and license for boys who have ADHD and anxiety?” – NDADHDMOM


Boy did this question resonate with me. Driving – for my son with ADHD – took center stage in our home for most of his sophomore year in high school! That said, I’m going to put on my parenting hat to lend you my perspective and leave the tips and advice to ADDitude! I invite you to check out this wonderfully comprehensive article titled, “Behind The Wheel: Cruising For Safe Teenage Driving” that is chock full of ways to help teens with ADHD and their parents navigate the driving process.

Now onto my story.

I received my learner’s permit at 16 and literally started counting down the days to my road test. All I wanted was to be able to hop in the car at a moment’s notice and go wherever I liked. One afternoon, as the road test appointment approached, a snowstorm hit. My dad (an extremely pragmatic man), walked into my bedroom, threw the car keys in my direction and announced, “Time to go!” He continued, “I don’t care if New York state says you can drive; you need to pass my road test.” And with that, I was in the car, driving through a raging snowstorm on pitch black backroads that were covered with ice. I kid you not.

Fast forward and it was now my 16-year-old son’s turn to get his permit. And yes, as he stood in the DMV waving his permit around in victory, I completely killed his buzz by reciting the exact same speech my dad gave me many years ago. Bottom line? Eli was going nowhere unless my husband and I deemed it so! (To be fair, our older daughter received the same speech.)

[Free Download: Driving Contract Template]

I am a firm believer that it’s the parents’ job to set the parameters and the child’s job to negotiate them. Here were a few of ours:

  1. Private driving lessons – and with a no-nonsense instructor who understood how to teach teens with ADHD. He was tough, came with his own set of rules, and threw my son out of the car on a few occasions. I owe him my son’s life. Literally.
  2. Eli drove every time we got in the car. There were no excuses. It didn’t matter if it was early or late, if he was tired or hungry, or if the weather was terrible. He drove.
  3. Car Care 101! It wasn’t enough to just learn how to drive. Both my kids were required to understand how a car operated, to recognize if something was wrong and what to do in case of an emergency. And yes, I was required to do the same when I was their age.

Now, was Eli happy having to do all this? No. Was it the smart thing to do? Unapologetically, yes. Were there “bumps in the road?” Of course! Is he a good driver? A really good one, actually, and even more importantly, a confident and safe one.

The point I’m trying to make is that it all comes down to YOUR and YOUR SON’S comfort level – and NOT how old he is nor that the local DMV in your county says he can. Don’t get swept up in the “all the kids are getting their permits” dance. Remember, you decide what’s right for your family. So, trust your instincts. You’ll know when and if your son is ready.

Good Luck!

[Click to Read: How to Steer Your Teen Toward Safe Driving]

ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

Submit your questions to the ADHD Family Coach here!