Stress & Anxiety

Danger: Distraction Ahead

“The last thing I need when I’m behind the wheel is to hear a strange, unexpected beep from my smartphone.”

A driver uses their cell phone as an ADHD organizational tool while driving
man using phone while driving the car

Recently, while attempting to maneuver my way through end-of-day traffic, with a good friend in the passenger seat, I was bowled over by an unsettling, unnerving, and unidentified tone coming from the depths of my bag. I struggled to resist the urge to slam down on the brakes and, instead, retrieved my iPhone from my bag. I quickly glanced down at the screen, which read, AMBER Alert.

These messages, I later learned, are part of the Wireless Emergency Alerts program. Developed by a partnership between the wireless industry, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, it broadcasts text-message-like alerts to inform citizens when a child is kidnapped.

Harnessing technology to get all hands on deck and enlist the public in locating kidnapped children, and their kidnapper, is a great idea. But what the rule makers have failed to realize is that for me and countless other Americans with ADHD, commandeering our phones and sending out an unexpected alarm can have catastrophic consequences — especially while we’re driving.

I’m talking about that special ADHD moment when your executive functions are suspended without your consent by an unanticipated distraction. Or, to put it another way, the moment that your iPhone lets out a beep that you haven’t programmed it to make, causing you to feel as though your heart has stopped for a second and to think that you’re about to cause a car crash.

I’m all for enfranchising the cellphone-carrying public to help bring bad guys to justice. But forgetting to take into account the cognitive constraints of people with ADHD — one of the most commonly diagnosed neurobehavioral disorders in the United States — is not just ignorant.

It is dangerous.

Drew R. Dakessian is a 23-year-old journalist from Portland, Oregon.