Focus & Attention

Driven to Distraction?

To stay safe behind the wheel, slow down, pay attention — and make use of high-tech help.

How fitting that the idea for this column — about the distractibility of ADHD drivers — came to me while I was driving. I know, every motorist risks getting distracted — especially these days, when people eat, drink, talk on the phone, fiddle with the radio, and apply makeup while behind the wheel. But it’s worse for us — lots worse. The Annals of General Psychiatry reported recently that we are much more likely than people without ADHD to commit traffic violations and to have “adverse driving outcomes.”

To see how some simple technology can keep us safe on the road, read on — but, please, not while driving.

Calling all cars!

How risky is it to use a cell phone while driving? Very. The best advice would be to leave your phone at home. Or keep it in the trunk, so you’ll have it for an emergency.

Of course, you probably don’t want to be out of contact while driving, especially if you spend a lot of time on the road. Get a wireless headset and set it up so that you can speed-dial friends and family members with the push of a button. Even better are hands-free wireless speakerphone kits, like Nokia’s HF-6W (Nokia.com, $179), which plugs into your car’s cigarette lighter socket. (You won’t be using that, anyway, since we all know it’s hazardous to smoke while driving — or any other time.) Lastly, if your phone features voice-activated dialing, use it. (It’s a good idea to check your state’s laws regarding the use of cell phones while driving.)

Safe slurping

How’s this for a Catch-22? Sipping coffee can keep you alert, but fumbling for a cup can cause you to veer off the road — or into oncoming traffic. I suppose you could get one of those hydration backpacks used by long-distance runners and cyclists. But all you really need is a commuter’s mug. My favorites are the Drive Time coffee mug ($22.95) and the Travel Tea Mug ($19.95), which has a built-in strainer. Both are available at CoffeeCakes.com.

Mindful helpers

People with ADHD are notorious for forgetting things. But when I get behind the wheel, the real problem is remembering something: an errand to run, a phone call to make, an idea for a column. My impulse is to reach for my pen and jot down a note, but that, obviously, isn’t such a great idea. (Can you say “fender bender”?) Now I use my cell phone’s voice recorder feature — push a button and start talking.

Another option is one of those notepads that sticks to the dashboard. Amazon.com sells the BLK Slimline Clipboard for less than five bucks.

Backseat disturbances

Noise and activity in the backseat can be dangerously distracting to the driver. Puzzles, coloring books, and games help kids (even hyperactive ones with ADHD) keep their hands to themselves. A Nintendo DS may be even better, especially with Nintendo’s new line of Brain Age games, which combine behavior-focusing entertainment with a workout for the white matter.

Another option is a portable DVD player, with headphones. Or consider my favorite, the iPod (Apple.com, $249-$349); in addition to music and podcasts, it plays movies or TV shows downloaded from iTunes. There are no DVDs to lose or scratch.

What if your driving companions are the kind that have fur and a tail? Check out Four Paws harnesses, at FourPaws.com. They work with a car’s seatbelts to keep Rover (or, in my case, Nick) safely strapped in.

Note to toll-takers and drive-in bank tellers: Doggie biscuits are always welcome, even if Nick must remain in his seat, instead of on my lap.

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