ADHD News & Research

Car Crashes More Likely Among Teens with ADHD

Young drivers who have ADHD are at greater risk for car accidents, even though they’re less likely than their peers to get their driver’s licenses.

June 29, 2017

A new study finds that adolescents with ADHD are 36 percent more likely to get into a car accident than their peers without ADHD, corroborating earlier research.

The study, published earlier this month in JAMA Pediatrics, looked at approximately 18,500 patients of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, living in southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. About 2,500 of the patients had been diagnosed with ADHD, and all were between the ages of 16 and 25. Researchers cross-referenced the subjects’ electronic health records with state driving records and accident databases.

Teens with ADHD were 35 percent less likely to get their license immediately upon turning 16, the researchers found, but those who did obtain a driver’s license crashed their car at a rate that was 1.36 times greater than their peers without ADHD. The risk was the same regardless of the patient’s gender, age they received their license, or whether or not they were taking medication to treat their ADHD. (Another study, published in May of this year, found that drivers with ADHD who took medication were less likely to be in a crash than their non-medicated counterparts. The current study did not support the same conclusion.)

The teen years are already the most dangerous time for drivers, regardless of their ADHD status. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 are more than three times as likely to get into car crashes than drivers 20 and older — and those crashes are much more likely to be fatal. Adding ADHD significantly increases the chance the driver will be distracted, experts say. A 1993 study found that teens with ADHD were four times as likely to be involved in an accident than teens without ADHD.

Despite the increased risk, however, the researchers involved in the current study emphasized that the potential danger is manageable for most teens with ADHD.

“The presence of ADHD among young drivers warrants concern,” said Thomas Power, Ph.D., an author on the study. “But the findings suggest that, as a general rule, we shouldn’t be extremely concerned or fearful for allowing these youths to drive.”

The researchers suggest that parents monitor their children closely, and encourage them to get their driver’s license only when they feel ready. For children who struggle to learn to drive safely, driving rehab specialists — driving instructors who focus on students with special needs — are a good resource to teach confidence to teens with ADHD.

“The first stage is to make sure the youth has sufficiently strong communication skills, problem-solving skills, decision-making ability, judgment, and level of responsibility, in order to advance to the learning-to-drive stage,” Power said.