The Potential for Autonomous Vehicle Technologies to Address Barriers to Driving for Individuals with Autism

Individuals with autism represent a sizeable share of the U.S. population (almost 2%), and nearly half of those with autism have average to high levels of intelligence. However, available research shows that adults with autism have a much more difficult time becoming employed and living independently compared to both typically developing adults and adults with disabilities. This study reviews the available literature on the magnitude of challenges to driving and accessing essential opportunities for adults with autism, and the potential of autonomous vehicles to address those challenges. This study is unique in that it identifies the specific driving challenges and needs faced by those with autism. The study makes the following recommendations: (1) Occupational therapists certified for driving rehabilitation should evaluate the driving abilities of those with autism and provide enhanced driver training, with and without autonomous vehicle technologies (i.e., warning systems, steering, acceleration/deceleration, and braking systems) to address any driving challenges; (2) If autonomous vehicle technology is shown in (1) to be necessary to allow for safe driving, then public funding should be made available to help with its purchase, just as funding is currently made available for those with physical disabilities to modify vehicles with adaptive equipment; (3) More tests of high automation should be conducted to affordably expand transit access; however, in the interim, public funding should be made available to subsidize ride-hailing services when transit is not a feasible travel option for those with autism; and (4) More research is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of autonomous vehicle technology interventions for driving (in 1) and expanding transit access (in 3).

University: 

Mineta Consortium for Transportation Mobility
San José State University

Principal Investigator: 

Caroline Rodier, Ph.D.

PI Contact Information: 

Mineta Transportation Institute
San José State University
210 N. 4th St., 4th Floor
San Jose, CA 95112
cjrodier@ucdavis.edu 

Funding Source(s) and Amounts Provided (by each agency or organization): 

U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology – ($69,993.30) 

Total Project Cost: 

$69,993.30

Agency ID or Contract Number: 

69A3551747127

Dates: 

August 2017 to February 2020

Implementation of Research Outcomes: 

The objectives will be accomplished through a review of the existing literature and expert interviews with professionals who (1) work with adult individuals with ASD to understand current transportation challenges and client experiences with paratransit and ridesourcing companies (i.e., professionals involved with automated vehicle regulations), (2) are knowledgeable about legal and regulatory barriers in California and the U.S., and (3) understand the specific technologies that could benefit the ASD population now and in the future. 

Project Number: 

1706