Recent changes in the 2022 Assessing Fitness to Drive (AFTD) standards have brought uncertainty for thousands of autistic drivers in Australia. These adjustments, quietly introduced, mark the first-time autism is explicitly addressed in the standards, emphasising individual assessments. A recent ABC News article has shed light on these changes. Prompting discussions about their potential impact on autistic drivers across the nation.
Legal Limbo for Autistic Drivers
The AFTD standards now state that “a practical driver assessment may be required” raising concerns about discrimination and added burdens, particularly for those diagnosed later in life. Anxiety exists around the possibility of discouraging older individuals from seeking autism diagnoses due to potential complications in retaining or obtaining licenses.
Diverse State Interpretations
While the AFTD guidelines are national, the varied interpretations in each state and territory result in different reporting requirements and potential penalties. States like Queensland impose fines for failure to obtain a medical clearance, while Victoria and the ACT mandates self-reporting of health conditions affecting driving for all drivers.
Assessing Fitness to Drive Guidelines
Developed by Austroads in conjunction with the National Transport Commission, the AFTD guidelines cover various medical conditions affecting driving, including autism. The 2022 edition aims to assist health professionals in managing individuals on the spectrum, as explained by consultant Fiona Landgren.
Autistic drivers face challenges, with GPs often requesting on-road assessments due to a lack of confidence in assessing their driving abilities. The assessment process, costing approximately $1,500, includes practical and written components with outcomes of pass, fail, or driving rehabilitation.
Limited studies focus on autistic drivers. Previous focus has primarily been on learners or inexperienced drivers. Revealing differences in visual scanning, speed regulation, and response to stimuli. However, current research does not provide conclusive evidence of increased motor vehicle crash risk associated with autism.
Research on Autism and Driving
Critics argue that the AFTD standards stigmatise autistic drivers without sufficient evidence linking autism to impaired driving abilities. Professionals emphasise the social nature of autism versus the physical nature of driving, challenging the standards’ validity.
Autistic individuals seeking specialised driving lessons often face challenges obtaining National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) funding. Autism diagnosis levels influence funding eligibility. With level two or three required for guaranteed NDIS support, raising concerns about the associated stigma.
Austroads and the National Transport Commission acknowledge the evolving understanding of how autism affects driving. Future editions of AFTD are expected to address these issues. Considering the diverse characteristics and diversity of autism this will necessitate a nuanced approach.
Recent ABC News Article
The recent ABC News article highlights changes in AFTD standards. This has sparked discussions on the rights and challenges faced by autistic drivers. Growing public awareness may lead to increased conversations on road safety and the avoidance of stigmatising individuals on the autism spectrum.