Some autistic people may find the skill of driving extremely difficult, whilst others will be highly competent. A diagnosis of autism or Asperger syndrome should not in itself be a barrier to holding a licence.

Here we talk about driving licenses, tests, learning to drivefitness rules and the blue badge scheme. We also look at some financial help that may be available to you.

You must tell the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) or Driver & Vehicle Agency (DVA) Northern Ireland if your disability affects your ability to drive safely.

Driving licences

Provisional license

You can apply for a provisional driving licence when you’re 15 years and 9 months old, and start driving a car when you’re 17.

However, if you get, or have applied for, the enhanced rate of the mobility component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) then you can learn to drive a car when you’re 16. 

Read more about applying for your provisional licence.

Full license

You can apply for your full license once you have passed your driving test.

Read more about applying for your full license.

Learning to drive

There are several steps involved in learning to drive a car.

When starting to take lessons you may want to:

  • observe traffic when you’re a passenger or watch videos that may help you to become more aware of the rules of the road and driving
  • take information about autism to discuss with your driving instructor before your first lesson, particularly if you have any sensory differences that can impact on your ability to learn eg problems with the glare from the sun or headlights.

Your driving instructor may find it helpful to watch a video about autistic people learning to drive.

Some strategies they could try to help include:

  • writing things down when explaining something to you
  • giving frequent breaks during your lesson
  • breaking down information into smaller parts for you
  • using physical clues to help you with estimating speed and distance.

Take your time over learning to drive and try to practice as often as you can.

Remember, whilst you may have difficulty with some things such as sequencing when you first learn to drive, this will soon become a routine. Autistic people are often good at remembering rules, so learning the Highway Code maybe something that comes more naturally to you than it would others.

Find a driving instructor with experience of teaching people with disabilities.

Driving tests 

The theory test

When you book a theory test, you should say if you have a reading difficulty, disability or health condition.

There are reasonable adjustments that can be made to this test to help. These are also available in Northern Ireland.

Read more about additional needs and theory tests.

The practical test

Although you have a disability, you will still have to take the same test as everyone else and be able to display the same ability. However, some drivers with disabilities may be allowed extra time for their test.

Dawn Larman at The Scottish Autism Services Network helped a member with Asperger syndrome to write a declaration of disability letter for their driving test.

You may want to use this as a template to be adapted to your specific diagnosis and needs: 

Read more about additional needs and practical tests.

Fitness to drive rules

You don’t have to disclose your autism diagnosis to the DVLA, if it doesn’t affect your ability to drive safely. However, if it don’t disclose a condition that affects your ability to drive safely when you apply for your provisional license, you could be fined up to £1000 and be prosecuted if you are involved in an accident.

The guidelines say that safe driving involves, among other things: vision, visuospatial perception, hearing, attention and concentration, memory, insight and understanding, judgement, adaptive strategies, good reaction time, planning and organisation, ability to self-monitor, sensation, muscle power and control, coordination.

Initially, it may be worth telling your GP that you are thinking of learning to drive and discussing the guidelines with them. 

The Disability Law service have information on what to do if your license is refused or revoked.

Find out about the process of disclosing and the decision to grant a licence.

Financial help with the cost of driving

If you receive the higher rate mobility component Personal Independence Payment (PIP), you are eligible to join the Motability scheme. This will mean that the higher rate mobility component of your PIP will be paid directly to Motability and you can lease or purchase a vehicle through the scheme in return.

You may also be able to get help with the cost of driving lessons through a Motability Charitable Grant.

You can get free road tax if you receive the enhanced mobility element of PIP.

A car insurance company should be notified of a disability. Under the Equality Act 2010 or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in Northern Ireland, insurers can only charge disabled people higher premiums if the extra charge is based on factual or statistical data, or there are other factors which mean that a disabled person is a higher risk.

Read more about car insurance for disabled drivers.

What to do if you have an accident

If you have an accident, it is worth having written instructions in your car so that you can see what you need to do. It is also worth talking to your driving instructor about what is classed as an accident and when following actions would be appropriate.

  • Stop at the scene of the accident and switch off your car's engine. Put on your hazard lights. Be careful when leaving your car, being aware of other traffic.
  • Try to stay calm. Maybe take some slow, deep breaths or use whatever anxiety-reducing methods may work for you.
  • Call 999 immediately if anyone is injured, if the collision scene is dangerous or if someone involved leaves the scene without exchanging the details required by law. You may also want to call an appropriate adult who can help.
  • It’s useful to keep a disposable camera, pen and paper in your car so that you can make a sketch or take a photo of the accident scene. Remember to note street names, vehicle locations, collision points and any damage.  
  • Get the names, addresses and vehicle registrations of any witnesses, including passengers in the other vehicle(s) involved.
  • Take down the registration number, make, model and colour of the other vehicle(s) involved in the accident. Drivers (including yourself) must then exchange their own details by law. This includes name, address, telephone number and insurance details (the name and address of each driver's insurance company, and insurance policy numbers if available).
  • If the other car involved is parked and its driver isn't there, you must leave a note with your details on the car, perhaps under the windscreen wiper.
  • You must then notify your insurance company of the accident.

Blue badge

The Blue Badge scheme gives people who have disabilities various concessions and privileges relating to parking. These include being able to park in disabled bays and on some single and double yellow lines, and fewer restrictions on parking time limits. Badge holders are also exempt from paying the London congestion charge.

The scheme operates in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland with the exception of a few London boroughs, who only partially recognise the scheme.

The Blue Badge Scheme also operates across Europe, and allows you to make use of the same concessions allowed for the residents of the country you are in. If you are planning to drive in another country, check the parking concessions for that country.

Who issues blue badges?

Though it is a national scheme, blue badges are actually issued by local authorities (councils), or in Northern Ireland by TransportNI. It is the local authority, who also decides on entitlement to the badges.

You can apply for a blue badge by completing an application form, which you get from your local authority online at:

England and Wales
Scotland
Northern Ireland

Who is eligible for a blue badge?

Blue badges can be applied for on behalf of a person aged more than 2 years old. If you’re applying on behalf of your child, you’ll need to demonstrate that they will be the main beneficiary of the blue badge.

The eligibility rules vary depending on whether you live in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Read more about the blue badge scheme.

Appeals

If your application is unsuccessful the local authority should give you a detailed written explanation of the reasons why. The Department of Transport recommends that local authorities have a review/appeals procedure in place. If you think you have been incorrectly or unfairly refused a blue badge, you can ask for a review of the decision or use the council's complaints procedure.

You should explain to your local authority why you believe its decision is wrong. Let them have any evidence to support your case. Support from a disability group, medical or other professional, councillor or MP may help.

Eligibility Criteria Review in England

The Government in England has agreed to review the Blue Badge eligibility criteria that has until now made it very difficult for autistic people to get a Blue Badge if they do not have a physical disability. We welcome this review but do not know how long it will take.

Further information

Disabled Motoring UK
Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)
Driver and Vehicle Agency Northern Ireland (DVANI)
Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency
Pass Plus
Can I drive with autism?

Last reviewed: 23 February 2018.