ADHD Statistics

My Brother Died in a Car Crash Because of His ADHD

I am an ADHD expert, and I was my twin brother’s safety net. Was there anything I could have done to prevent his fatal car accident?

An ADHD adult rushing to work in the car.

My brother, Ron, had ADHD in his early childhood, and it continued all his life — which ended abruptly, six years ago, when he was 56, in a single-car accident in Keene, New York. That accident can be attributed to his ADHD and its impact on his driving habits — speeding, risk-taking, distractibility, use of alcohol, and disdain for the seat belt.

Ron was out for a pleasure drive on a fine summer evening on a dirt road, enjoying the beautiful Adirondack Mountains, as he loved to do. He had just finished a 10-hour shift as a chef and had had a drink with our 92-year-old mother before grabbing some dinner and jumping into the used van he had bought and fixed up. We had spoken by phone a few days earlier. He was the happiest I had heard him in a while, because of his new job. After years of odd jobs and playing guitar and singing in rock bands, he was finally going to get some benefits.

It is clear from many studies — some conducted by me — that irreparable harm can befall adults with ADHD when on the road. Just as clear is the fact that those with driving problems can be helped by medication. So how could the brother of an ADHD expert not receive treatment?

How to Help Our Loved Ones

The predictors for automobile crashes in adults with ADHD are severity of symptoms, older age, the number of speeding tickets they receive, a poor credit rating, and high levels of hostility. All but the last were factors in my brother’s crash.

[Self-Test: Could You Have Adult ADHD/ADD?]

What are family members, and clinicians, to do about these risks? Studies show that stimulants can improve driving performance, so, obviously, we should strongly encourage medication whenever adults with ADHD get behind the wheel. That is easier said than done. You can talk about driving risks all you want, but it was my brother’s — and any adult’s — choice to adopt or ignore that advice. And there is not a damned thing I could do about it if Ron chose to continue in his destructive ways.

About 15 years ago, I gave up the role of advice-giver and judge of Ron’s behavior, which had led to our estrangement. After all, he was 46 years old. I realized that, despite my best intentions, he saw my efforts as an intrusion. I butted out.

I changed my relationship with him, playing a supporting role when the consequences of his actions became dire — near-homelessness, medical and dental crises, and legal actions. I accepted the reality of a persistently disabled brother. I became Ron’s safety net. It is a role I would recommend to others — and would take on again. It is the only important role to play if you wish to stay involved in your loved one’s life.

[Free Webinar Replay: Girls and Women with ADHD: Unique Risks, Crippling Stigma]

Deaf to My Advice

ADHD symptoms always stood in the way of Ron’s taking my advice. Research suggests that adults with ADHD do not judge themselves as being different in their driving performance than adults without attention deficit disorder, despite their history to the contrary. And those with ADHD are less likely to use information and skills for self-improvement than someone without the disorder.

Ron knew what a seat belt is for. He got tickets for not wearing one. Yet his failure to use a seat belt led to his death. So I ask: Why don’t people with ADHD do what they know to be good for them?

I chose to be a safety net, albeit an imperfect one. Would Ron have died earlier had the net not been provided? I would take the same course again if I could, because being estranged from my beloved brother wasn’t an option.

[“I’m Too Distracted When I Drive”]

Updated on January 3, 2019

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  1. My son is in jail serving a sentence for involuntary manslaughter. He was driving with two other teens in the car when his tire went off of a country road and he went down an embankment and the passenger side hit a tree killing his best friend who was not wearing her seat belt. They convicted him after the prosecutor convinced the jury that he must have been abusing his ADHD medicine. That wasn’t true, we were only giving him his meds as needed and kept them locked up for fear of one of his friends might help themselves. He had 0 alchohol in his system, no more medication then prescribed, but he did have a low level of THC. The kids admitted to smoking a joint together earlier in the evening.

    Austin was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome at the age of eight with coexisting disorders, mainly ADHD and sometimes severe OCD. We were not able to hire an good criminal attorney, I had given up my career to homeschool Austin when it was apparent he would be left behind in a traditional school. We did therapy, and as little medication with him as possible. Went to church regularly, joined the lady homeschool community for activities and socialization. Did everything we thought possible for a child that needed only to be accepted. That was hard for him, kids are not always understanding nor parents.

    That fatal night, we believe that with the two girls in his SUV talking, laughing, doing what teenagers do, is the real cause of the accident. It is so easy to be distracted when you have real ADHD symptoms. It doesn’t require you to be drunk or high or careless, What can be done, I do not know. But I pray for my child everyday. It is horrible for the family that lost their child to this accident, and they are very angry. They would have given him the chair if they could have. But he would never ever have hurt anyone on purpose and certainly not his friends. What is a parent to do with this, it’s my worst nightmare come to life. Praying that this problem can come to light that others see them problems with ADHD and driving and that a solution can be found. This was not a case that should have ended up in court and certainly not murder. It was an accident, as sad as it was. Thanks for listening.

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