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Curbing the Attention-Deficit: Influences of Task Demand During On-Road Driving
Previous research has indicated a critical role of task demand in determining driving outcomes amongst individuals with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These findings have predominantly come from laboratory simulations, thus how task demand and arousal interact with attention to determine performance in real traffic situations is still unclear. The present study assessed driving performance amongst medicated and unmedicated ADHD drivers in a real driving task, using different traffic conditions to explore the effects of task demand on ADHD driving. Driver behaviour was recorded as participants navigated an on-road route in their own vehicles involving driving in urban, residential, rural, and highway environments. While unmedicated drivers employed fewer safe driving skills, and committed more inattentive and impatient driving errors, medicated drivers performed similarly to controls, attesting to the efficacy of stimulant medications. Greater task demands associated with manual as opposed to automatic driving; and urban as opposed to rural or highway environments were shown to improve attention and performance, particularly amongst unmedicated ADHD drivers. This is the first study to document such influences of task demand in real traffic. The present findings suggest that intervention strategies that focus on manipulating the level of task demand may be useful in improving driving outcomes amongst this established high-risk driving population.