Driving and Autism

I can drive.

You can drive? Are you sure you’re autistic?

Yes and yes! I learned to drive when I was 17. I found it extremely taxing (scuse the pun) due to having to take in verbal instruction – I didn’t know I was autistic but I did know that I couldn’t handle more than one verbal instruction at a time.

‘When you get to the end of the road, turn left, then your first right, then second on the left’.

*BRAIN SNAP*

After a few arguments, my (then) husband got the message that bombarding me with verbal instructions resulted in slamming of doors and tears. Sometimes I slammed doors and cried too, so he adapted his teaching technique – not that it worked all that well as my L plates spent more time flying through the air than they ever did attached to my car!

It was two years before I felt ready to take my driving test. I had three lessons (in all) with a driving instructor. Unfortunately, as soon as I saw the name of the test examiner, my heart thunk-a-dunked because he’d failed my brother a decade earlier. The bloke had a reputation for giving teenagers the fail slip first time so I was on a downer before I even thrust my size 4 moccasin onto the clutch pedal. Also, I was taking the test in the instructors car which, in hind-sight was a mistake because I had learned to drive in my Mini-Metro..

Long story short, I failed and instantly regretted not putting the examiner’s head through the windscreen on the emergency stop. However, I now understand the role that unfamiliarity played in me failing the test.

In contrast, I took the second test in my own car and it was a piece of piss, as the saying goes.

Independance

Learning to drive was difficult for me, but I was determined to drive because I struggled with public transport. Lesser evil, right? With me, it’s always been a case of one fear overriding another. However, getting myself from A to B is a different matter entirely. For example: A recent 20 minute trip to Hobbycraft involved me ‘driving’ the route via Google street maps, even down to checking out the exit route in the car park. It took minutes, but it was necessary in order to familiarise myself with the route.

I establish routines and end up going to the same shops and parking in the same places which makes my world safe, but small. But my problems are generally around directions. I’m shit at them, even with satellite navigation. In fact, my sat-nav’s most commonly used command is: ‘When possible, do a u turn’ or ‘Route recalculation’. One reason is I can’t judge distance very well. By that, I mean when I’m supposed to turn left in 350 yards. This is common with autistic people. The way around this is to use physical clues. My ‘life coach’ has ADHD and she counts the streets on her sat-nav so she knows when to turn. Where there is a will, there is a way, right?

Perception

Sometimes, I feel as if the car is moving faster (or slower) than the speedometer is reading. The perception of speed could be due to dyscalculia? Or anxiety. But, again, it’s common with autistic people in general.

Parallelophobia

I will hold my hands up and admit that I cannot parallel park and previous attempts have resulted in at least one tyre being on the kerb and me feeling like a tw@t. Hence, I’ll drive round the block ten times rather than try to parallel park! Thankfully, PP wasn’t compulsory when I took my test or I’d be on my 1000th attempt by now..

I can, however, reverse into a parking space on a car park. No probs!

The Law

Abiding by the law is important to me. For that reason, I had no problem learning the Highway Code – which in my day was basically a pamphlet. I don’t speed or park illegally and I get hella stressed as a passenger if other people break the law. Nor do I drive too slow, as crawling along a 50 mph road doing 30 is just as dangerous as driving too fast.

Despite my challenges, I’ve held a clean license for 30 years – aside a tea stain on my old paper one. I’ve adapted and overcome problems because being able to drive is my independence. The thought of having to phone for a taxi, then sit in a car and communicate with a stranger is equally as stressful as having to queue with the masses for a bus. Quite simply, if I couldn’t drive, I would turn hermit because public transport is generally too much for me – especially since my burnout.

Accidents Will Happen

I’ve yet to be involved in an accident as a driver, but it is a fear of mine and accidents do happen. Or is it collisions now? Either way, even the safest driver is at risk of some old timer’s slip-on jamming under the foot pedal resulting in a big dent in your rear end. I’m wondering if this is what happened recently when an old lady almost ran me over? Except it was my personal rear end that almost got dented. *still having the flashbacks*

I do worry about how I would cope in an accident as my brain malfunctions in an emergency. With this in mind, I keep a list of what to do in the glove compartment. I also have people listed as ‘ICE’ on my mobile phone. This is to aid the emergency services should I ever be unfortunate enough to find myself lodged in somebody’s bumper. Or they in mine..

In Case of Emergency (ICE) is a program that enables first responders, such as paramedics, firefighters, and police officers, as well as hospital personnel, to contact the next of kin of the owner of a mobile phone to obtain important medical or support information (the phone must be unlocked and working). The phone entry (or entries) should supplement or complement written (such as wallet, bracelet, or necklace) information or indicators. The programme was conceived in the mid-2000s and promoted by British paramedic Bob Brotchie in May 2005.[1] It encourages people to enter emergency contacts in their mobile phone address book under the name “ICE”. Alternatively, a person can list multiple emergency contacts as “ICE1”, “ICE2”, etc.- Wikipedia

Lots of autistic people drive, so don’t assume that a diagnosis will prevent you from learning. Anne Heggerty of The Chase fame passed third time. The bottom line is a person’s ability to drive.

Responsibility

The important thing to understand is that driving isn’t about propelling a car forwards. My lurcher could do it. (ish) It doesn’t make you a driver. It’s about making decisions and judgements which start with your own fitness to drive on any given day. This is why so many young people are involved in fatal collisions. They speed and overtake on bends for the thrill or to show off – totally oblivious to the potential consequences of their actions. These are the ones who kill others as well as themselves. I’ve never been that person. I don’t understand the mindset. But I have been a passenger in the cars of young men who are and all I can think was that they mustn’t have thought a whole lot about me to put my life in such danger.

I think that my autistic brain makes me a more conscientious (and safer) driver because I am hyper aware and my need to abide by the law means that I don’t speed or take unnecessary risks. I’m courteous and respectful and in that I am becoming a rare breed as too many people turn into ignorant arsewipes once their backside hits the driver’s seat. I will admit to the occasional flicking of the V’s to somebody whose abysmal driving puts my life in danger, but I’m only human, innit?

Need I remind you, 007, that you have a licence to kill, not to break the traffic laws.” Goldeneye