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What is your experience learning to drive.

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On ‎02‎/‎06‎/‎2012 at 10:31 AM, LancsLad said:

Thought I would make a few general points regarding learning to drive.

As a bit of background a few years back following my retirement from teaching I decided to train as a driving instructor with the intention of it acting as a means of income whilst I went through a university course. I also felt that at university there was a good supply of people who might want to take lessons. The reality was that the company went bust and with it the promised franchise car etc was not there at the end of the day and I decided that going out and buying myself a dual control car to use was too expensive a risk as our son had just been born.

My first comment would be about people with ASD learning to drive and what is the right time to do this. There is already a lot of debate that the current driving age is too low. The main argument for raising it should be that this is a very borderline age when it comes to human development in respect to spatial awareness and importantly judging speed. In effect if we took a cross section of 17 year olds we would find many of them simply have not yet developed the important skills which should be in place for them to become competent drivers.

I have seen no research because I believe we have not got that far yet, but would ask: as a developmental condition by definition should we be far more cautious about the age we might allow young people with ASD to start learning to drive? Personally I was 26 when I learnt to drive. I would consider myself a very good driver: I have advanced status, drive a race-ready track car, and am comfortable taking it around a racing circuit reasonably close to its limits. What I would say is that as a keen cyclist and being out on the road in traffic a lot throughout my life I always felt I was not ready to learn to drive until I was around 25 years of age. When I did I took to it pretty easily and passed first time on very few lessons. Looking back was it simply a case of understanding my development, possibly delayed because of ASD, had not reached a point where I was in a position to start to learn? Personally I think so.

If I had any advice for parents of teenagers with ASD who want to learn to drive I would have this advice. Firstly make them aware that as a developmental condition their point of entry into the process might also have to be delayed for good reasons. I am also aware that some of the very big driving schools have pretty good simulators as an incentive for very nervous individuals to make their first steps in a safe environment. Personally I would be tempted to use these services but be honest and say, 'how well is my son and daughter processing information and are they ready to start to learn?' The temptation of these companies will be to say yes, 'a couple of more simulator lessons and they will be fine'. But if the question is openly and fairly laid out I am sure you would get an honest appraisal of where they are up to.

To support such a thought process there are a lot of DVDs which can be bought as practice aids for the driving test. A number of the hazard recognition elements might give a good indication of how someone reads a situation in respect to spatial and speed judgement, and if you have a son or daughter who can't do these very well and score well then this might be a very good sign that they are not ready 'yet'. And I think this is the point: it's not about you will not make a good driver in a few years time, rather because there might be a developmental delay it might be prudent to wait so you have a good experience of the whole process.

Coming onto the points about jargon. The big issue here is the structure of the driving test and the need for consistency. Driving examiners are trained to be the most boring people in the world. I have always wondered what they are like when they get home; I suspect just the same. As such they are very pedantic and regimented in the way they speak and ask things. As a result when we learn how to be a driving instructor we are taught that we must teach people to respond to instructions in this way.

There is a large part of me which says the test should be run along the lines of 'you realise you are going the wrong way down this road - show me how you would safely get back on course'. In real life because a lot of us would think making a 180 degree turn in the road would be difficult and dangerous we would drive around the block. In a similar way to my mother-in-law, who is just about the worst driver I have come across: her answer to a reverse park is to arrive at Sainsburys 10 minutes before opening, park in a distant corner of an empty car park and charge around hoping no other cars will be near hers by the time she gets out. Whilst there are many elements of my mother-in-law I admire I would not let her rewrite the driving test to make it user friendly. What I am saying is that it needs to be the way it is; we have possibly some of the highest testing standards in the world, not that you would realise it driving around.

What I would say is that driving instructors should take their learners to a point where they can respond to an examination environment and that might not mean using a lot of jargon in the first few lessons. I think the problem is a lot of their work is based with people under 20 and they really like the idea of being grown up and responding to this sort of technical jargon from day one and to be honest respond well to it. As we get older I think we are more concerned initially about establishing a working relationship with the instructor and might find it a bit formal at first.

My final point is: can people with ASD make good drivers? When looking at myself I think the answer is yes. I take my driving very seriously as I do with most things in life, and would say it has continued to improve as I have gained more experience. I have very good spatial awareness for my environment: is that an AS thing? I am not too sure, but more importantly I have a lot of focus. When I drive my car my task is to drive the car, not listen to the radio, talk with other people, look at the view etc... I am there to drive the car to the best of my ability. Is this an autistic trait? Yes.

There might be a lot of people with ASD who will find driving a very stressful and overpowering experience. What I would say is you will not find out if this is the case until you decide to give it a go. I think a big hurdle in finding out is what might I do in a first lesson: will I kill someone or something? What a lot of people do not understand is that in a proper dual control car there are pedals on the passenger side which override the driver's side. A qualified instructor can comfortably control that car steering with their right hand; we get trained to do so to a very high standard. In other words you are very safe and so is everyone else. If you are not sure try and find evidence of a major accident in such a scenario - I don't think you will. As such you might feel very anxious; that's fine, but you are safe. If you give it a go and it is a horrible experience then at least you have given it a go. You never know; you might really enjoy the experience and have a lot of potential to become a really good driver.

Finally to Robert I have been fortunate to take my car around a few race tracks and drive on closed forest roads over an RAC rally stage. My biggest speed thrill was in the passenger seat of a Lamborghini Countach LP400 flat out on the M58 the week before it opened in 1977 as a 12 year old; from that point on I lost my interest in trains. However as I have got older the kid in me has emerged and I have felt how cool it would be to drive a train, especially a high speed train. All I can say Robert in my best Monty Python voice, you lucky, lucky Bas....!

(emphasis added)

And yet, according to the National Autistic Society's page on driving, those in receipt of the mobility component of PIP can learn to drive at 16!

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