Unwinding the Road for Young Drivers with ADHD

McDermott Team Pic

From left: Jennifer M. McDermott (Psychology), Shannon C. Roberts (Mechanical and Industrial Engineering), and Graduate Students Adaeze Egwuatu (Driver Seat) and Yalda Ebadi (Passenger Seat).

As young drivers with ADHD navigate the complexities of the road, assistive driving technology stands to be either a boon or bane depending on its design. This study delves into the alignment of the diverse needs of these drivers with the effectiveness of specific driving aids, aiming to enhance their safety and performance on the road.

People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – a condition characterized difficulties with attention, impulsivity, and risk-taking behavior – can be associated with creative and unconventional thinking. For some with ADHD, certain tasks can resemble a winding road, where unexpected twists and turns are a necessary part of the journey from point A to point B.

Among other challenges, however, people with the condition are also known to be at an increased risk for traffic collisions.

Responding to this risk, some have suggested that assistive driving technologies may be helpful in supporting driving performance for young drivers with ADHD. But its effectiveness varies significantly among individuals: if an assistive driving technology is not appropriately tuned to the unique cognitive needs of the individual in question, it can be unhelpful, or even harmful, to their driving.

This research project seeks to understand the individual needs of young drivers with ADHD in developing assistive driving technologies that suit them. Relying on behavioral and neural measures, the study aims to learn how these young drivers adapt to the technologies, and evaluate their overall utility in transforming driving from a high-risk activity to a safer, more controlled experience.

The findings of this research will contribute valuable insights to the field, with plans to share the results through academic publications and leverage them in applications for future grants. Beyond the academic and research community, the implications of this study extend to the grassroots level. By engaging with local community education leaders and parents involved in teaching safe driving practices, the research team aims to foster a broader understanding of safe driving strategies tailored for young drivers with ADHD.

In addition to Professors Roberts and McDermott, this hands-on research experience will be shared by a multidisciplinary group of four graduate students. In 2020, as they were completing this project, the team was awarded an opportunity to continue their research by a program funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

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