To be young and behind the wheel, and to have ADHD: Crash risk is greater, but drug treatment may help

September 13, 2006

It's long been suggested by research that adolescents who have ADHD are more likely—nearly four times so—to be involved in a motor vehicle accident than unaffected drivers in the same age group. Furthermore, young adults with ADHD have a significantly higher rate of traffic violations and license suspensions than patients without ADHD.

It's long been suggested by research that adolescents who have ADHD are more likely—nearly four times so—to be involved in a motor vehicle accident than unaffected drivers in the same age group. Furthermore, young adults with ADHD have a significantly higher rate of traffic violations and license suspensions than patients without ADHD.

Now, a recent study of a small group of young adults with ADHD, conducted at the Washington Neuropsychological Institute, has found that subjects improved their driving performance when they were treated with an FDA-approved extended-release ADHD medication once daily.

"Many teenage and young adult drivers with ADHD have trouble complying with the rules of the road and have difficulty staying focused on the complex and demanding task of driving," said Gary Kay, PhD, associate professor of neurology at Georgetown University School of Medicine and Director of the Washington Neuropsychological Institute, in a statement to the media. "This study demonstrated that treatment of ADHD symptoms may lead to improvement of driving safety performance."

To evaluate the driving safety performance of participants—some who received the medication and others given placebo—Dr. Kay and his team conducted a six-week, double-blind randomized pilot study using a driving simulator that assesses driving skills, including situation awareness, hazard perception, risk assessment, and decision-making under time pressure. Researchers averaged results of the participants' driving score on safety-related driving parameters, including tickets, crashes, and excess speed.

Subjects who were treated with mixed salts of a single amphetamine in an extended-release formulation (Adderall XR [Shire]) recorded, on average, better scores than those whose ADHD symptoms were untreated. While being treated, participants who received the active drug were better able to avoid crash-likely events, less likely to tailgate other drivers, and more able to maintain their speed and comply with traffic regulations than those who were given placebo.

The Washington Neuropsychological Institute is an independent institution that specializes in computer-based neurocognitive testing and driving simulation.