Study Shows Driving Dangers for Teens With ADHD - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Study Shows Driving Dangers for Teens With ADHD

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Teen drivers are statistically far more likely to get into trouble behind the wheel. But a new study from psychologists at the University of Virginia shows driving can be far more dangerous for teens suffering from Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

It is something researchers hope to change, and they already have concrete ideas about how to do it. UVA behavioral psychologist Dr. Daniel Cox and his team have spent years researching the effects of ADHD on driving. In the past, they've used simulators to study driving habits. Now, for the first time, they've stepped out of the lab and into real vehicles.

"This is the first study that has investigated real routine driving," Cox said.

The new study followed 17 teenaged drivers with ADHD over a six month period. Researchers installed cameras in each of the participants' vehicles to monitor habits and behavior. During the first three months, teens drove without the aid of medication. Researchers found that during that time, drivers were more easily distracted and recorded eight total accidents.

During the latter three month period, drivers were placed on methylphenidate, a long-acting ADHD medication. During that period, no accidents were recorded. "The results clearly indicated that on their medication they were safer drivers than off their medication," Cox said.

Past reports detail other surprising findings. Researchers say those suffering from attention disorders are often better drivers when they have more to focus on in the vehicle. That includes manually shifting gears.

"Manual transmission makes you pay attention more to the process of driving," Cox said. Casey Bauer is assistant director at Learning Rx, a learning resource center in Charlottesville.

She says those findings apply even when teens aren't in the driver's seat. "They're able to hyper-focus on what's going on around them," Bauer said. "So even though it does seem a little bit counterintuitive, it's something we see here too."

Researchers also noted interesting passenger behavior in the report. When drivers were not on their medication, passengers were far more likely to keep drivers from losing focus. "The passengers were much more engaged in the driving process when the ADHD drivers were not on medication, when they were less safe," Cox said.

"Passengers were more likely to correct the ADHD driver, more likely to help them pay attention, and then after they had a mishap they were more likely to criticize the driver."

Though the study looked only at the effects of long-acting medications on driving, researchers say their ultimate goal is to move beyond pharmacological interventions altogether. They hope to create more resources to help drivers with ADHD stay focused on driving without the use of medication.

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