At-Home Safety: Helping ADHD Teens Become Better Drivers

Teen drivers with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often are considered big safety risks on the road. A University of Buffalo researcher is working to help these teens become safer drivers.

Gregory A. Fabiano, UB, associate professor of counseling, school and educational psychology, already had established a therapeutic program that not only helps these teens become better drivers but also builds better relationship with their parents. Now, with a $2.8 million grant from the National Institute of Health’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Fabiano will extend his program to other teens and their families with therapy that includes dramatic demonstrations of the dangers of texting while driving.

“We had worked with children with ADHD for a long time at the university,” says Fabiano. “And as those kids grew up, we heard concerns from parents about the transition to independent driving.

“So we did some research and found out results not surprising to anybody. Teen drivers are the worst on the road. And some recent research has shown that compared to that worst group of drivers, teen drivers with ADHD were significantly more at risk for everything.”

Fabiano’s grant-funded project – a joint effort between a Graduate School of Education research team and UB’s New York State Center for Engineering Design and Industrial Innovation – also found stark results when it comes to teens texting while driving: Texting while driving can make individuals as bad as drunk drivers or worse.

“It’s hard to turn on the TV or open a newspaper or magazine without seeing something about the risks of texting and driving,” Fabiano says. “Because cell phones only have been around for a while, this is a recent phenomenon. And only in the past 5 years have text messages and texting been something we all have on our phones and in our pocket, so it’s really a new distracter that teens now entering the roadway are having.

“In our research, we have yet to have somebody be a successful texter while driving, and that includes our internal staff and me,” Fabiano explains. “Texting while driving impairs driving to the extent where there are deviations in the lane, on the shoulder, people spinning out, they lose control, and it’s not hard to extrapolate that if that sort of thing happened on a real road, you could have hit a pedestrian, another car, a bad accident.”

Fabiano says the significant conclusion of this part of his research is how the teenagers who lose control of the simulated vehicle while texting often do not realize their ability to drive was severely compromised.

“We have found teens with ADHD are like children with ADHD in that they have poor insight on the impact of their behavior on others,” Fabiano says. “So most of the teens we work with think they can easily text while driving without any poor consequences.”

Fabiano’s 5-year NIH study began in April. It focuses on ADHD teenage drivers with learner’s permits. The teens practice on the driving simulator and are given an onboard driving monitor to track driving behaviors, giving parents and teens the chance to review their driving performance and interactions.

The goal of the study is develop a driver education program targeted to ADHD teens and their parents.

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