How can ADHD/ADD be confused for a DUI/DWI?

How can ADHD/ADD be confused for a DUI/DWI?

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), up to 80% of children diagnosed with ADHD have symptoms that persist into adolescence and up to 66% into early adulthood. Likewise, the APA reports that over 4% of adults suffer from ADHD. Many of the symptoms of ADHD are easily confused with indicia of impairment used to judge if a driver is operating a vehicle while impaired.

Young drivers with ADHD are up to four times more likely than non-ADHD drivers to have an accident, which also means that they are more likely to have an accident than an adult drunk driver. Driving is a skill that involves multitasking or, in field sobriety testing terms, it is a divided attention test. In the same way an ADHD driver will have difficulty following directions due to attention problems, the testing for DUIs involves a long list of tasks to be completed in a certain order. The same difficulties a drunk driver may have in this testing is mimicked by the ADHD disorder. In fact, people with ADHD are more likely to be stopped and questioned by police. The ADHD driver is also more likely than the non-ADHD driver to be driving without a license, be involved in multiple crashes, be a fault at crashes, receive traffic citations and have deficient driving skills.

The results of testing clearly indicate that ADHD has an adverse impact on the operation of a motor vehicle and the ability to properly take the Standardized Field Sobriety Testing of a DUI investigation. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration lists numerous "indicators of impairment" for the officer to look for during a DUI investigation, almost all of which can be exhibited by a driver with ADHD as a direct result of their disability and not from any impairment from alcohol. Indicators, pre-stop, that officers are trained to look for but could be the result of a disorder are: (1) turning wide radius, (2) weaving (3) following too closely (4) braking erratically, (5) stopping inappropriately and many others.

After the stop has been made by an officer who thinks he has a DUI suspect, he conducts the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests called the One Leg Stand and the Walk and Turn test. They each involve a complex series of instructions and commands that a test subject is supposed to remember then demonstrate. Clearly, one who is deficient in sustained attention would be unable to follow these complex instructions. Also the ADHD driver is more likely to be distracted by other officers on the scene, from flashing light or even the passing traffic. Further, as the tests are designed to divide the attention of the test subject, someone with ADHD is more likely to be unable to pay attention to the full and complete instructions being given.


Clients with ADHD provide a unique challenge to the DUI practitioner. A defense to impairment is possible from the very nature of the illness but is often overlooked by a defense attorney with little or no medical training. This should be considered in every DUI case and discussed with the client and with the attorney's experts in order to assist in the development of a defense to impaired driving cases.

Categories: Criminal Defense, DUI/DWI
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