Teen drivers have to learn many new skills, like judging how far away a moving car is and anticipating what other drivers are going to do. It can be extra hard for teens with ADHD to learn safe driving skills. They may need different strategies—and lots of practice.
There’s a special type of driving instructor who works with new drivers with ADHD. These professionals are called driving rehabilitation specialists (or driver rehabilitation specialists). Here are eight tips from certified driver rehabilitation specialist Amanda Plourde to help teens with ADHD learn safe driving skills.
1. Practice active scanning.
Driving requires knowing what’s happening ahead of you, behind you, and right next to you. This skill is called active scanning. To help teens build this skill, have them describe what’s going on around you when you’re driving together.
Give examples of specific things to look for, like crosswalks, turn signals, stop signs, and side streets where cars may be pulling out.
You can also narrate decisions you make while driving. For example, “The light is turning yellow, so I’m going to stop.” Or, “The car ahead of me is signaling left, so I’m slowing down.”
2. Talk about intersections.
Intersections can be confusing. There are different types (lights versus stop signs) and rules about who goes when. Pull over before you approach an intersection and talk through what to do. Make sure teens understand concepts like “right of way” and “yield,” and which lane they can turn from.
3. Use stickers on the steering wheel.
When there’s so much else going on, even remembering which way to turn the wheel can be tough. Use stickers as a reminder. Mark the right side of the steering wheel with a sticker to help teens remember which side is right and which is left. You can also put a sticker on the 12 o’clock position of the steering wheel.
4. Stick to familiar routes.
Kids with ADHD often have trouble with planning and thinking about things in different ways. That's why it helps to stick to familiar routes at first. This lets them focus on building skills without feeling stressed about figuring out a new route. For example, they can practice making left turns at the same intersection before dealing with unfamiliar intersections.
5. Cut down on distractions.
It’s hard enough for a new driver to pay attention to the road. Add music and other passengers to the mix, and focusing gets even harder.
Often, state law restricts the number and type of passengers new drivers can have. But you can extend those limits for even longer, or add other restrictions.
6. Give extra practice.
Once teens get their permit, most states require a set number of driving hours before they take their road test. Some states even require several hours of formal driving instruction. Families may want to consider doubling that amount to give teens with ADHD extra time to build skills before driving solo.
For teens taking driving lessons, try spacing out the sessions. Instead of twice a week for three weeks, you could do every other week for 12 weeks. That gives teens extra time to work on skills between sessions.
7. Keep an eye on medication use.
8. Ask the instructor about experience with ADHD.
For teens with ADHD taking driving lessons, it helps to have an instructor who understands ADHD. Ask the instructor if they have experience working with teens with ADHD. They may have or know about other helpful strategies.
If the instructor has experience, ask how those students did. Teens with IEPs can even share it with the instructor. It could give the instructor ideas for how to tailor driving instruction.
More Ways to Help Teen Drivers With ADHD
As teens learn new driving skills, introduce new driving situations little by little. These include driving at night, driving in rain or snow, and driving on highways or freeways.
Keep in mind that while some teens are eager to learn to drive, others may be scared. Talk openly with teens about whether they feel ready. It’s a big challenge to tackle, and pushing it can make it more difficult.
The more supported teens feel, the more likely they are to build the confidence and skills needed to be a good driver.
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About the author
About the author
Kate Kelly has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.
Thomas E. Brown, PhD is a clinical psychologist and clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.