Driving is one of the riskiest things you can do, with around 100 Americans dying in car crashes daily. Living with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can make driving even more dangerous. Although many of us think of ADHD as a childhood disorder, its challenges often persist into adulthood. Symptoms like impulsivity and inattention heighten the risks of driving and make car accidents more likely.
Until recently, research has focused on young drivers with ADHD. A growing understanding of adult ADHD reveals that, although adults exhibit less hyperactivity than children with ADHD, they often struggle with attention, memory, and planning. Recognizing the unique ways adults experience ADHD raises questions about how it affects older drivers.
Yuxin Liu and her research team examined how ADHD might affect the risk of car accidents among drivers over 65-years-old. They used data from the Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers project, where approximately 3% of participants had ADHD. Participants’ driving was monitored with in-vehicle recording devices. They answered annual questionnaires on driving habits and health between 2015 and 2019, including whether they had ever been diagnosed with ADHD by a health professional.
As shown in the figure above, drivers over age 65 with ADHD were approximately twice as likely to get a traffic ticket (for speeding, running a stop sign), or get in a car crash, based on self-reports. Data from in-vehicle monitors also showed that those with ADHD exhibited a 7% higher risk of abruptly breaking.
More of us are becoming aware of the ways ADHD affects adults because of the recent emergence of Tik-Tok self-diagnoses of ADHD. Although self-diagnoses can be unreliable because ADHD needs professional evaluation, more adults recognizing their symptoms and consulting with a physician can spur early intervention.
The authors highlight the effects of some ADHD medications in managing ADHD symptoms and reducing driving errors. However, other work has indicated that drivers prescribed stimulants like Ritalin may be more likely to get into car crashes. These complications show us how important it is to have careful evaluation and personalized treatment for older adults dealing with ADHD.
Databyte via Yuxin Liu, Stanford Chihuri, Thelma J. Mielenz, et al. Motor Vehicle Crash Risk in Older Adult Drivers With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. JAMA Network Open, 2023.