University of Vermont

Department of Psychological Science

Micro-Philanthropy Initiative for Research Funding

Follow Up of ADHD Children into Adolescence – An Investigation of Driving Competence and On-Road Risk

The Micro-Philanthropy Initiative for Research Funding is a collaboration between the Psychology Department and The UVM Foundation seeking out funding for promising graduate-level research. By donating to J. Quyen Nichols’ research proposal you make possible this low-cost project that could bring valuable returns in our understanding of the relationship between ADHD and youth driving.

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J.Quyen Nichols
Advisor: Dr. Betsy Hoza
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Quyen Nichols
J. Quyen Nichols
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is widely known to be an impairing disorder that is typically diagnosed in childhood; however, ADHD persists into the teenage years and into adulthood for a considerable portion of these children. A key area of dysfunction and danger for individuals with ADHD as they get older is within the driving domain. Broadly, drivers with ADHD are more likely than drivers without ADHD to commit traffic violations, and adolescents and young adults with ADHD are more likely to be involved and at fault in automobile accidents. This is not surprising given that a disorder characterized by hyperactivity, inattention and impaired resistance to distraction would be expected to have a deleterious impact on driving—a task that requires sustained attention to the roadway and emerging hazards.

To date, few studies have focused on driving competence and on-road risk in adolescent individuals who were previously diagnosed with ADHD in childhood. This is a critical area of research such that an early determination of "fitness-to-drive" for youth at greater risk on the road may not only reduce their own risk for injury but also that of others on the road (drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians).

In conjunction with the University of Vermont Foundation (UVMF), I am seeking funding to carry out a transportation safety research project to assess correlates of risky driving in a sample of adolescents who were diagnosed with ADHD in childhood. The aim of the present study is twofold. First, we will be following up a sample of youth with and without ADHD to assess (a) parent perceptions of the youth's driving competencies, (b) youth perceptions of his/her own driving competencies, and (c) driving performance through an examination of DMV driving records and through routine driving behaviors obtained via bi-weekly reports of driving frequency and adverse driving incidences. Second, ADHD symptom persistence will be examined as a moderator of these outcomes.

More than any time in the past, traffic and transportation safety is facing profound changes as roadway infrastructure and vehicle technologies continue to advance. Unfortunately, these advancements may be harming the automobile user’s ability to safely navigate the roadways and their numerous hazards. In particular, the driving task is often complicated and made more difficult by task-irrelevant activities with which drivers willingly engage; notably, these activities detract from the driver’s ability to focus on task-relevant behaviors such as navigating, reacting to unexpected events and maintaining lane position, following distance and speed.

A few examples of very common task-irrelevant distracting behaviors include adjusting the radio or sound system, conversing with passengers, eating, lighting a cigarette, shaving, applying makeup and, of increasing importance recently, using a cell phone, which includes dialing, texting, browsing or engaging in conversation. Not only has cell phone-related impairment to driving performance been established in the scientific literature, this detriment can also be anecdotally supported by most drivers on the road! Just ask yourself: when was the last time you used your cell phone or engaged in any of the previously mentioned task-irrelevant behaviors while behind the wheel? Given these numerous changes to the transportation domain and the increased potential for collisions on the road, it continues to be of utmost importance to address this public health and safety concern.

Last modified March 19 2014 01:57 PM