What You Need to Know about ADHD and Driving while Distracted

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For many parents, the thought of ADHD and driving presents an unsettling proposition. Parents think, my child can’t stay focused at home or at school, how will they stay focused when behind the wheel? Even without factoring in ADHD, we have enough distractions today that the idea of any teen driver behind the wheel can make us uncomfortable.

Still, teen drivers might just be the beginning. While teen drivers certainly account for many wrecks each year mostly due to inexperience, some adults can be just as distracted behind the wheel. We need to acknowledge that distracted driving presents a problem for all of us and most of all for new drivers and drivers already prone to distractions.

Those of us with ADHD have trouble focusing sometimes. Sounds or other people or our phones draw off our minds quickly. When we need to zero in on a task, our ADHD minds can jump from one obscure thing to another. When it comes to driving, though, these distractions can take a much larger toll through the consequences. Even just a few seconds of distraction can lead to an accident that can change our life profoundly.

In this article, we want to provide some strategies to help address ADHD and driving. These strategies seek to limit distractions while behind the wheel. You can use these tips if you are an adult, or if you’re a parent with a teen with ADHD who is about to start driving. The ultimate goal is to help all of us get better at driving and keep distractions from affecting how we drive.

Reduce Driving Distractions Within the Car

To help with ADHD and driving, the main thing you need to focus on removing is distractions. Again, though, the number of distractions in our lives has increased tremendously in just a very short number of years. We have GPS devices in our cars, CD players, satellite radio, and of course, the ever present smart phones. With so many possible distractions, we need a game plan to help address them all. All of the following strategies focus on building a game plan to limit distractions in the car.

Turn off the Phone

The main distraction that we nearly all worry about is our cell phone. Especially when it comes to teens and driving, the cell phone provides the greatest temptation to get off track from driving. Many states now have laws about texting or talking on a phone while driving. Unfortunately, this still has done little to actually eliminate the influence of the phone on bad driving.

For ADHD and driving, you absolutely must eliminate the distraction factor of the phone from the driving environment. From the phone ringing to vibrating in your pocket and then you trying to reach it, there just exist too many opportunities for something to go wrong. You need to make sure the phone won’t distract at all.

To eliminate the distraction of the phone, you need to turn it off or use an app that limits its functions. Many apps will make it so that your phone will automatically send a reply for texts or phone calls while driving. These can provide an alternative if you don’t want to turn off your phone completely. Whatever you do, though, don’t underestimate how distracting the phone can be. Do something drastic about it before it causes an accident or worse.

Set It and Forget It

In a car, nearly anything can become a distraction. For young drivers especially, you have to keep the attention on the road at all times. Such simple things as changing the radio or switching a CD have caused too many accidents and wrecks.

To help limit the effects of ADHD and driving you need to simply learn to set it and forget it. If you listen to music whether on CD or on your phone or streaming player, pick a playlist and stick with it. Stop trying to look for a song or artist or CD while driving or at a stoplight. You never know when something might happen when driving, and you can’t afford to take your eyes off the road for even a second.

If you can’t keep your hands off from adjusting what you listen to when driving, you might need to learn to cut everything off completely. While this approach might sound drastic, it ultimately would be the best course for all of us. Music and noise provide more distraction than we realize when driving. If you think this might sound like overkill, science shows us that music provides a significant distraction. Ideally, if we listen to something, we would listen to it at a low volume and just set it and forget about it until we reach our destination.

Keep the Food at the Table

Let’s just admit it now. We have all been there. We have all been behind the wheel with one hand holding a drink and a burger or burrito or some form of fast food in our other hand. Both hands full, we have then tried to steer the car as best as we could.

We live busy lives. Being always on the go means that we often eat on the go. The trouble with this equation, though, especially when it comes to ADHD and driving is that food creates unnecessary distractions when driving.

To limit distractions in driving, you need to focus on keeping your hands on the wheel. This simply means taking anything that you have to hold out of the car. The quick thought of an issue might be your phone and holding your phone to talk or text. Taking your phone out of the car provides a good first step, but you need to go further. You need to keep food and drinks out of the car and anything else that tempts you to hold something other than the wheel.

If you need to eat then you can take the time to stop and eat inside a restaurant or at your home. Eating a fast food meal should take 15 minutes at the most if you need to get back on the road. No matter your hurry, if you must eat, you should be able to take at least 15 minutes to do it. Remember, a meal simply isn’t worth the distraction. Eliminating as many distractions as possible will make us all better off.

When it comes to Teens, Set a Good Example

As we discussed when we started, most parents worry about their young teen drivers more than anything. Additionally, we have all heard the old saying, “do as I say, not as I do.” When it comes to driving and ADHD, though, you really cannot follow that maxim with your kids. Rather for parents of ADHD children, you need to learn to be your kids’ hero and set a good example.

Most all parents understand that kids and teens pick up on everything. Not only do they pick up on your actions, they learn to imitate them. Sometimes, they even imitate the actions of their parents without consciously realizing what they’re even doing.

To ensure that ADHD and driving doesn’t become a problem, you have to above all else set a good example. This means that all the things that you want your child to do to limit distractions in the car you need to practice yourself. You need to turn off your phone, have the passenger change music or look up directions, and never eat while driving.

While setting a good example might seem to cramp your style, you need to look at the bigger picture. If you have kids, a lot of your life must change in order to teach and instruct your kids better. Driving shouldn’t be any different. If you have kids with ADHD, you must do everything you can to set them up to succeed. Making changes when driving should be a small concession to give your kids a good example to follow.

Refresh and Remind with a Defensive Driving Course

Ask anybody, and almost everybody you run into on the street will say they are a great driver. Almost without fail, almost everyone says that other drivers cause all the problems on the road. Interestingly enough, though, we can’t all be perfect drivers, or really we would never have traffic accidents.

In reality, we all contribute to traffic issues in big and small ways. One important way that we can begin to address ADHD and driving is simply through accepting some of the burden of the problem ourselves. If you have ADHD or don’t have ADHD, you nonetheless drive while distracted at some point in time. We all do it, and none of us drive perfectly.

If you have ADHD, though, you need to acknowledge your greater propensity towards driving distracted. After accepting that we don’t drive perfectly, we can take a reminder driving course. Defensive driving courses provide a good opportunity for any of us to relearn the basics. Look for courses offered in your area or online. A good practice might be to retake a course once every two years just to keep yourself reminded and refreshed.

Set Ground Rules for New Drivers

Going back to eliminating distractions, for teen drivers, you need to build in additional boundaries to help keep drivers on track. New drivers have a lot more things on their mind than others who have been driving for a while. Whether or not we realize it, each of us has built in additional knowledge and reflexes from years of driving. Young drivers, though, don’t have this added knowledge and when put in a bad situation might react improperly.

To help young drivers more, you need to set ground rules. These rules go beyond what the law requires, and they will differ from house to house. The object of the rules should be focused on making the car a safe environment for your teen driver. Some good ground rules might include not allowing other passengers in the car except for family. Additionally, you can limit driving after a certain hour at night. You can also say no eating while driving and the phone must be turned off.

To come up with your own house rules, consider your own home and situation and your teen’s personality. Some things might present bigger distractions for some people more than others. For instance, the radio might provide a bigger distraction for some teens while other teens might have a bigger issue with talking with passengers. Set your ground rules around your household needs to help keep ADHD and driving under control.

Take ADHD and Driving Seriously

As people, we tend to forget. We forget small things, everyday things, and important things. When it comes to driving, all of us tend to forget the seriousness that comes with getting behind the wheel. Driving a car has become so commonplace that we rarely think twice about what we do behind the wheel until something bad happens.

When it comes to ADHD and driving and the implications of distracted driving, though, we can’t wait to be reminded before taking action. If we fail to give driving the respect and gravity it deserves then we put our young drivers and others at a risk. Only through acknowledging the seriousness of driving can we begin to address ADHD and driving well.

You can never eliminate every distraction in driving. Neither can you make driving 100% safe. You always will have risk when getting behind a wheel or when getting in a car. Still, through limiting distractions as much as you can, you can limit the chances that things might end badly.

Start taking ADHD and driving seriously today. Remind yourself of the dangers of driving. Do this not to frighten yourself or your kids, but rather do it to make sure you take driving seriously.

If you have a teen at home with ADHD who might start driving soon, start now with setting a good example and laying ground rules. It’s never too early to start planning and preparing. Through preparation and planning, you can commit yourself to being the solution to distracted driving instead of adding to the problem.