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Characterizing the Learning-to-Drive Period for Teens with Attention Deficits

Bishop, Haley J. PhD*; Curry, Allison E. PhD; Stavrinos, Despina PhD*; Mirman, Jessica H. PhD*

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: October/November 2019 - Volume 40 - Issue 8 - p 581–588
doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000706
Original Article

Objective: Motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death among teenagers, accounting for approximately 1 in 3 deaths for this age group. A number of factors increase crash risk for teen drivers, including vulnerability to distraction, poor judgment, propensity to engage in risky driving behaviors, and inexperience. These factors may be of particular concern and exacerbated among teens learning to drive with attention deficits. To our knowledge, our study is among the first to systematically investigate the experiences of novice adolescent drivers with attention deficits during the learner period of a Graduated Drivers Licensing program.

Method: Survey and on-road driving assessment (ODA) data were used to examine parent and teen confidence in the teens' driving ability, driving practice frequency, diversity of driving practice environments, and driving errors among teens with attention deficits as defined by attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis or parent-reported trouble staying focused (TSF).

Results: When teens' driving skill was evaluated at the conclusion of the learner period, teens with ADHD exhibited more driving errors than their typically developing (TD) counterparts (p = 0.034). Teens with TSF were more likely to have their ODA terminated (p = 0.019), had marginally lower overall driving scores (p = 0.098), and exhibited more critical driving errors (p = 0.01) compared with TD teens.

Conclusion: These findings may have implications on the learning-to-drive period for adolescents with attention deficits. Adjustments may need to be made to the learner period for teens with attention deficits to account for attention impairments and to better instill safe driving behavior.

*Department of Psychology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL;

Center for Injury Research and Prevention, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA.

Address for reprints: Haley J. Bishop, PhD, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Campbell Hall, Room 231, 1300 University Boulevard, Birmingham, AL 35233; e-mail:

Research reported in this publication was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under award numbers R03HD082664 (PI: Mirman) and R01HD079398 (PI: Curry). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Disclosure: The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Received January 02, 2019

Accepted May 29, 2019

Copyright © 2019 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.