Jennifer is a highly-educated professional as well as a soccer mom. She takes medication for her ADHD and is very disciplined about it. Very few ADHD adults are perfect with their medications, but she comes mighty close. She can tell you the specific day with absolute certainty that she last forgot to take her medication. It was the day she totaled her soccer-mom-mobile.
For the record, she had no passengers when it happened and no one was injured. But the costs and inconveniences were remarkable. Months later, she is haunted by two what-ifs. First, what if it had been worse? A split-second’s difference could have changed the mechanics of the crash. An air-bag could have failed. Another car could have easily become involved with much more serious consequences. Secondly, what if she could have prevented it by remembering her medication?
Much public discussion of ADHD medication centers on the side effects of the medication. Very little public scrutiny is given to the potentially more pressing question–what are the effects of not taking medication for ADHD? Do people with ADHD owe it to other people to take our medications?
There is a public health issue when inattentive or impulsive behaviors occur on busy, public streets and highways. Ask the truck drivers who spend their working lives on these highways how much erratic driving, sudden lane-changing and needless panic-braking they want to drive behind. Ask everyone who uses our streets and highways if they’re cool that other drivers are distracted.
A wealth of research shows positive, real-life benefits when people with ADHD use medication in their treatment. The corollary to these studies is the problems that occur without the medications. Swedish researchers recently published a study of Swedish drivers’ injury rates using techniques much like those in the ADHD and criminality study highlighted in my last post.
In this study, they looked at the serious accident rates (involving injury or death) for Swedish men and women with ADHD compared to the general population. The overall accident rates were over 2.5 time higher for ADHD drivers. They then looked at the accident rates while ADHD drivers were a) taking their medication at least some of the time and b) not taking their medication at all. Accident rates were 30% lower in medicated ADHD men, and the researchers estimated that it would have been about 45% lower if they had fewer gaps in medication use. The numbers were similar in women, but didn’t reach statistical significance, possible due to inadequate sample size.
If you extrapolate the results of the Swedish study to the entire US population, we could potentially prevent 100,000 injuries and deaths every year with consistent use of ADHD medications. That’s a lot of soccer moms and truck drivers with ADHD who wouldn’t be in the hospital (or the morgue). And there are a lot more soccer moms and truck drivers who don’t have ADHD who wouldn’t be passively involved in the same accidents.
Please drive attentively. Stop fiddling with buttons. Don’t eat meals. Don’t text. Don’t show off. Don’t make calls. And if you, like myself, have ADHD, don’t fail to use the treatments that improve our attention, reduce driving errors and save lives.