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Teen ADHD, Texting a Deadly Combination

There is no way to sugarcoat it: the practice of texting while driving is a public menace that is endangering the lives of all who traverse the highways and byways of America. Driving a car and punching out a text message on a cell phone are two activities that were never meant to be mixed, and that is why 39 states plus the District of Columbia have made it illegal for anyone operating an automobile to text while driving. But these laws are difficult to enforce, and, as a result, this treacherous and foolish practice seems to be growing despite the obvious danger it represents. A person texting while driving is six times more likely to be the cause of an accident than someone who is driving while intoxicated and 23 times more likely to precipitate a car crash than the average sober driver, which makes it all the more astounding that this practice has become ubiquitous and casually accepted.

Teenagers are the most prodigious transmitters and receivers of text messages. Fifty-two percent of teens admit that they have texted while driving at least one time, and according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 11 adolescents lose their lives in the United States each day in car accidents caused by texting while driving. This death toll is appalling, but incredibly 77 percent of adolescents in one poll expressed confidence that they personally could text safely while driving.

As texting-while-driving has taken off, the number of young people diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactive disorder, or ADHD, has been rising dramatically as well. Approximately 6.4 million children or adolescents in the United States have now been diagnosed with ADHD, and because these kids are participating in the same activities as their peers, many of them are probably contributing to the texting-while-driving phenomenon. This could be especially problematic, since people with ADHD often have a difficult time maintaining their focus while practicing repetitive activities even when they are doing their best to pay full attention.

Crossing a Dangerous Line

In order to explore the question of how young drivers with ADHD might handle texting while driving, researchers connected with the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital recruited a group of teens—about half of whom had been diagnosed with ADHD—to test their driving skills for 40 minutes on a simulator and to practice sending and reading text messages while they were doing so for part of that time. It is already known that some teens with ADHD have difficulties keeping their concentration on the roadways, which explains why members of this subgroup collect traffic tickets at a rate that is three times higher than the typical teen population.

The results of these tests were striking. Adolescent drivers without ADHD strayed over the line less than 1 percent of the time in normal driving conditions but did so 2 percent of the time when they were sending or reading text messages. Meanwhile, the ADHD kids crossed over the center line of the simulated roadway 1.8 percent of the time when they were driving in a typical manner, but 3.3 percent of the time when they were driving while texting. Teen drivers with ADHD also had a much harder time maintaining a consistent speed while texting, and this is a pattern of driving behavior that could cause extraordinary risk to other drivers in real world conditions.

Message Received?

According to Jeff Epstein, Ph.D., the project’s lead author and director of the Center for ADHD at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, his group’s study “really just goes to show you how much texting impairs kids’ [driving] behavior.” Epstein pointed out that adolescent drivers are already four times more likely than older drivers to be involved in accidents, and when you add text messaging into the mix, the combination could be especially toxic for the kids themselves and for everyone else sharing the road with these obviously impaired drivers.

ADHD can add another factor into the mix in some instances, but it is clear that all young drivers should be discouraged from texting while driving in the strongest manner possible, by parents, schools and non-profit groups set up to educate others about the depth of this problem. It is interesting to note that 48 percent of young drivers report seeing their parents texting while driving.

Texting while driving at any age is a dangerous practice that eventually will be outlawed in all 50 states. But it shouldn’t take legal prescriptions to make everyone realize that this practice needs to be stamped out as rapidly as possible. Lives are being lost on a daily basis because of it and we can only hope that when people discover the shocking truth about texting while driving, they will finally come to their senses and stop tolerating it, stop encouraging it, and stop doing it once and for all.

There is still hope.

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