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June 12, 2017

CHOP study shows teens with ADHD are better drivers than we thought

A new study suggests that teenagers with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, deserve more credit for their driving than given by previous research.

Researchers from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia found that adolescents with ADHD are at a 36 percent higher crash risk than other newly licensed drivers. But that pales in comparison to previous reports, which have the risk being four times higher than CHOP's finding, according to the hospital.

Researchers linked more than 18,500 electronic health records of children born between 1987 and 1997 with New Jersey driver licensing and crash data. Of the 18,500, nearly 2,500 were diagnosed with ADHD. 

Researchers also examined whether gender and licensing age played a part, and they found crash risk persists during the first years of driving, regardless of the gender or age of a driver when they receive a driver's license for the first time.

"Our results indicate that newly licensed adolescents with ADHD have a greater risk of crashing than other young drivers, but that this is a manageable risk," the study's principal investigator, Allison E. Curry, said in a statement. "Our findings point to the need to develop evidence-based training and education for adolescents with ADHD who want to drive."

Recent studies have emphasized how potentially important medicine can be in reducing crash risk in ADHD patients, according to a press release. But CHOP researchers found only 12 percent of ADHD patients used for the study were prescribed medication in the 30-day period before receiving their license.

"We were surprised to find so few drivers in the study with an active prescription from CHOP doctors for an ADHD medication," Thomas J. Power, the study's co-author, said in a statement. "Although research indicates that medication likely reduces crash risk, the treatment can only be effective if teens are using it when driving."

Adolescents with ADHD may have characteristics, such as inattention, distractibility, impulsivity and difficulties with regulating emotions, that put them at a higher risk for "unsafe driving behaviors," the release stated.

"The research team recommends that caregivers of teens with ADHD who are considering driving schedule a doctor's appointment to address concerns, such as attention, impulse control, or communication issues," the hospital's statement reads. "They may also want to seek the advice of a behavior therapist, an occupational therapist who specializes in driving, or a driver rehabilitation specialist who has training in working with individuals with special needs."

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the National Institutes of Health, funded the study.

CHOP researchers are also conducting research on adolescents with developmental disabilities, the hospital said.

Resources for parents and professionals to support teens with ADHD can be found here.

For tools that can help guide families with a learning driver, see

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