EF Problems: Risk Factors for Young Drivers

By Eve Kessler, Esq.

Everyone struggles with inattention and executive functioning issues (EF) sometimes, says Thomas E. Brown, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author specializing in ADHD. But for most people, EF problems are manageable and don’t stand in the way of success. For kids with ADHD, however, EF impairments are typically “chronic and severe” and the consequences of lacking focus and sustained attention can be considerable. 

Take learning to drive, for example. Driving involves the complex interaction of all executive functions. In fact, research shows that inattention, distractibility, and impulsivity are the biggest contributors to auto accidents. It’s, therefore, not surprising that teen drivers with ADHD have a 62% higher crash risk in their first month of driving and a 37% higher risk during their first four years behind the wheel compared to those without ADHD. 

EF Challenges

Safe drivers must be organized, alert, pay attention to various things simultaneously, know what to remember and what to ignore, manage their frustration, and monitor how they’re doing, what they have to do next, and what they have to do after that. Specifically, they need to watch the cars in front of them; know if there are cars alongside them; check their rear- and side-view mirrors; signal before changing lanes; notice the truck backing out of a driveway down the block or the stop light turning red on the next corner; think about required movements until certain actions become automatic; and anticipate their responses (e.g., slow down or stop at a yellow light; know when to accelerate and when to brake gradually or abruptly).

Knowing the numerous executive functions involved in driving and how difficult it will be for your teen to learn each skill, alone and in combination, can help you decide how and when your teen is ready to get behind the wheel both as a learner and an independent driver: How will they best be able to internalize the “rules of the road” and prepare for the written driving exam? What type of driving classes will be the best fit? And how much individual practice and instruction time will be needed for driving to become second nature. 

This post is based on an ADDitude webinar, Inattentive ADHD: Why ADD is Misdiagnosed and Best Way to Treat it, by Thomas E. Brown, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, author, and Director of the Brown Clinic for Attention and Related Disorders, and Ryan Kennedy, DNP, a Nurse Practitioner and Associate Director of the Brown Clinic, www.BrownADHDClinic.com. Eve Kessler, Esq., a former criminal appellate attorney, is Executive Director of SPED*NET Wilton (CT), www.spednetwilton.org, and a Contributing Editor of SmartKids. 

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