Driving with ADHD

March 9, 2009

A recent article in Dr. Barkley’s ADHD Report brings to light some frightening research regarding the risk of driving with ADHD. Among other skills, driving requires prolonged sustained attention, impulse control, planning/executive functioning, and the ability to ignore distractions. So researchers wondered if having ADHD could make all of these tasks more difficult and therefore potentially impair driving performance. A good question to explore given the safety concerns around operating a motor vehicle.

In order to answer that question, researchers have compared actual driving records of those with ADHD verses those without and found an increased rate of car accidents, speeding, loss of license, and traffic violations among the non-medicated ADHD group. It turns out that these risks decrease significantly if the individual is taking medication for their ADHD. These results were further supported by studying individual performance in driving simulators – a video game type experience – comparing groups of drivers with ADHD to those without.

So just how risky is driving with ADHD? The answer is shocking. If you are an adult with ADHD not taking medication, your risk of driving impairment may be as compromised as a driver with blood alcohol level of .08% (the legal level of intoxication in the U.S.) In other words, a sober individual with ADHD may exhibit symptoms behind the wheel of a car similar to that of a drunk driver. Seems hard to believe, but driving under the influence of ADHD can be as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol.

Additionally the ADHD individual in this study was more likely than the non-ADHD participant to consider themselves capable of driving despite having equal doses of alcohol. The ADHD group was under estimating both their level of intoxication and impairment. For further information the study can be found in the journal Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology.

This information is a stern reminder that ADHD is not just about school performance for an adolescent or workplace performance for an adult. ADHD is a condition with far reaching medical and safety implications for everyone. We need to consider all the aspects of ADHD beyond inattention and hyperactivity and carefully weigh the risks and benefits of treatment, including medication. When it comes to driving with ADHD, talk to your doctor to make the best choice you can live with.

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