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Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2004 Jun;27(2):233-60.

Driving impairments in teens and adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

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Department of Psychiatry, Medical University of South Carolina, Harborview Office Tower, 19 Hagood Avenue, Room 910, Charleston, SC 29425, USA.


Available research provides compelling evidence that ADHD is associated with significantly increased risks for various adverse outcomes while driving, including increased traffic citations (particularly speeding), motor vehicle crashes for which the driver is at fault, repeated crash occurrences,and more severe crashes as determined from dollar damage and likelihood of bodily injuries from the crash. Not surprisingly, teens and adults with ADHD are more likely to have their licenses suspended and even fully revoked. Research further suggests that these driving risks cannot be accounted for by the comorbid disorders likely to be associated with ADHD, such as ODD, conduct disorder (CD), depression, or anxiety, or by lower than normal levels of intelligence. Recent attempts to study the processes or mechanisms involved in driving in adults with ADHD offer some explanation of how the disorder conveys such increased risks. Driving can be conceptualized usefully as involving at least three or more dimensions or levels, including basic cognitive abilities necessary for driving (operational), actual skills for maneuvering the vehicle in traffic (tactical), and the more executive, goal-directed aspects of driving(strategic). The findings of studies indicate that ADHD interferes with the basic operational components of driving by means of the impairments it produces in attention, resistance to distraction, response inhibition, slower and more variable reaction time, and the capacity to follow rules that may compete with ongoing sensory information. Accumulating evidence also points to a problem in the tactical level of driving, such that those with ADHDrate themselves and are rated by others as employing less safe driving habits during their normal operation of a vehicle than are adults in community control groups. Although this has been more elusive to demonstrate through the use of simple laboratory-based driving simulators. more modern virtual reality driving platforms offer greater promise in providing more realistic appraisals of driving performance and thus more direct evidence of the problems that occur at the tactical level from the disorder. Research has not examined the impact of ADHD at the higher strategic level or goal-directed aspects of driving. But given the mounting evidence that ADHD adversely affects executive functioning in adults, the author and colleagues anticipate that this level also will be found to be impaired in adults with ADHD. Indeed,it recently has been shown that adults with ADHD overestimate their driving abilities relative to normal adults, a problem that likely can be ascribed to more limited self-awareness and related meta-cognitive abilities for self-evaluation arising from the disorder. Although further research on the driving problems posed by ADHD is in order, sufficient evidence exists to warrant focus on possible treatments that may serve to improve these driving problems and reduce the risk for these adverse outcomes. High on the list of such treatments deserving further research and clinical attention is the use of stimulant medication. The more recent noradrenergic reuptake inhibitor. atomoxetine, also may have some promise in this regard. Studies are underway in the author's driving laboratory to see if this is the case. Meanwhile, adults with ADHD and parents of teens with ADHD should be advised about these heightened risks and encouraged to take steps that may reduce them, including the consideration of more graduated licensing for adolescents with ADHD and the possible use of stimulant medication in teens and adults with ADHD while they are operating a motor vehicle.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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