Driving with autism: Big change for some Australian licences

The term autism covers a very wide range of behaviours so this regulation seems likely to capture some people who are not likely to be problem drivers. I am a high-functioning autistic and I drove for 60 years without once hurting myself or anyone else.

The legal basis of this would also appear to be shaky. What evidence do they have implicating autism in bad driving? None, I am sure. To prodce such evidence they would need to have a very precise definition of the problem behaviours and that is precisely what is not possible with autism

The prime manifestation of autism is social insensitivity of various sorts so it is difficult to see how that could be a driving problem. So this is a very silly piece of regulation. Courts should assess the actual behaviour rather than some speculative claim about its origin.

A quiet change to the national standards that govern driving fitness has left autistic Australians in legal limbo, potentially facing fines of more than $9000.

The 2022 Assessing Fitness to Drive standards were the first to list autism as a condition that “should be assessed individually”, but there is huge variability about how the new rule applies across states and territories.

That puts many autistic Australians, particularly those who were diagnosed later in life, years or decades after they earned their full licences, in a confusing place of legal limbo.

The Assessing Fitness to Drive guidelines are updated every few years and cover a range of medical conditions, including diabetes, epilepsy and vision. They are written for health professionals who treat people with conditions that may impact their driving.

According to Austroads, which develops the guidelines in conjunction with other groups, autistic drivers aren’t required to automatically report their diagnosis, but the “overarching requirement is that a person with a condition that may impair safe driving will need to report and be assessed”.

Each state and territory interprets the guidelines differently, making for a lot of confusion — as well as some eye-watering fines and costs.

Tests of driving fitness also vary across jurisdictions. GPs often request an on-road assessment from an occupational therapy driver assessor, which costs around $1500. If the test is failed, subsequent “driving rehab” lessons cost between $130-$150 a pop.


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