The impact that ADHD can have on driving is an often underappreciated aspect of the disorder. Does ADHD reduce your ability to drive safely, and what impact legal impact does having ADHD have on driving?
Driving is for many an essential part of adult life. Being able to drive can support many aspects of life, including employment, family care responsibilities, education and
social engagement. In areas where there is little or no public transport, all these activities would be limited if an adult were to be deprived of the privilege.
Due to the core traits of ADHD, inattentiveness and impulsiveness, driving can open ADHD adults up to increased exposure to harm (both to oneself and others). Many of us are aware of the phrase ‘driving without due care and attention’, also known as ‘careless driving’. This phrase almost seems written for ADHD adults. Whilst ADHD is clearly a disorder that could have impact on safe driving, it doesn’t automatically mean we are unsafe.
The history of ADHD driving evidence
A study in the 1970s of children with ADHD followed to adulthood suggested that ADHD might be associated with greater adverse driving outcomes. In the 1980s, a study found that young adults with hyperactivity were more likely to be involved in traffic accidents as drivers than their non-ADHD peers. These young adults were also likely to incur greater damage to their vehicles.
In the 1990s, a survey found young adults with ADHD were less likely to be employing sound driving habits, more likely to have had their licenses suspended or revoked, more likely to have received repeated speeding tickets and were nearly four times more likely to have had an accident while driving a vehicle. The degree of ADHD symptoms was linked with these driving risks.
More recently, studies have shown that ADHD adults can drive faster, show poorer vehicle control and greater levels of frustration with other road users. Further research suggested that any increased risk for ADHD drivers may be the result of increased risk-taking, impulsivity or distraction behaviour. A recent review of the scientific literature however found that stimulant medication can improve driving performance in ADHD drivers.
UK driving law and ADHD
It is commonly misunderstood that if you are diagnosed with ADHD you must tell the DVLA. The truth is that the DVLA only need to be informed if you feel your ADHD or ADHD medication may impair your driving. You can however potentially be fined up to £1,000 if you do not tell DVLA about any medical condition that affects your driving, including ADHD.
There is at the time of writing no legal obligation to report your ADHD diagnosis to your car insurance provider. Tips for safe journeys include making sure your phone is put away, avoiding eating or drinking and having music on only if it helps you focus.
Author: James Brown PhD.
Editor: Alex Conner PhD.