Understanding the Learning to Drive Process for Teens with High-functioning Developmental Disabilities

Co-Principal Investigator: Patty Huang, MD, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Below is an executive summary of this project. Please note that this summary describes results and interpretation that may not be final. Final interpretation of results will be in the peer-reviewed literature.


This innovative study examined the relationship between teens with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder (HFASD) and driving  to create driving profiles for the eventual creation of fitness-to-drive guidelines for parents and physicians. These profiles will provide the foundation for educational modifications and interventions for teens with autism and other high functioning developmental disabilities.

While teens with HFASD may be at risk for unsafe driving behaviors and may self-restrict around driving, their driving experience had not yet been studied. Dr. Huang and her team examined these teens’ experience with driving, including frequency and timing of licensure, the functional characteristics associated with driving status and outcomes (including crashes and number of tickets received), and methods used to learn driving.

The researchers collected data using a web-based, 10- to 15-minute parent survey that included questions about teen driving status; factors parents consider in making decisions about their teens’ driving; methods used to teach them how to drive; driving  outcomes; parent characteristics; and teen autism characteristics. Subjects were recruited through the Interactive Autism Network, a national online research registry created by Johns Hopkins University and supported by Autism Speaks, a parent advocacy group.

The study found that a significant number of teens with HFASD are  interested in driving. Because a substantial proportion of them also  reported crashes and citations, education should focus on promoting  driving safety for this population, as it does for teen drivers in general. Future research should be conducted to measure the driving performance of teens with HFASD using a variety of methods, including on-road and driving- simulator assessments. 

IAB Mentor

John Werner, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company

Publication References