Only a Third of Autistic Teens Get Driver’s License by 21

Parent teaching teen to driveJust one in three New Jersey teens on the autism spectrum receive a driver’s license, according to a study published in the journal Autism.

April is Autism Acceptance Month, and access to a car can increase acceptance, mobility, and independence for autistic teens. The study points to the importance of supporting parents in the decision of whether a driver’s license is appropriate for their children.

Driver’s License Access Among Autistic Teens

The study looked at more than 52,000 electronic health records and driver’s license data for children born between 1987 and 1995. By age 21, 34% of autistic teens had received an intermediate driver’s license. This license allows drivers to drive independently during the day, but restricts passengers to only one non-family member at a time.

Researchers found almost 90% of autistic teens who received a learner’s permit received an intermediate driver’s license within two years. Eighty-two percent received their license within a year of acquiring their learner’s permit, compared to 94% of teens without autism.

Access to a driver’s license can affect a teen’s access to other resources. Teens with driver’s licenses can attend social functions, become independently involved in their communities, and access educational opportunities without relying on parents or other drivers.

Because most autistic teens with learner’s permits go on to get their driver’s licenses, the study’s authors theorize that parents are already in support of their teens driving before the learning process begins. This parental support may help even more autistic teens become drivers. The study’s authors recommend parents discuss driver’s licenses with their child’s doctor.

Can Teens with Autism Drive Safely?

A 2012 study found autistic teens may be safer drivers than their peers. Thirty-one percent of teens without autism had been ticketed, and 22% had been involved in a crash. The rate of both citations and crashes among autistic teens was 12%.

The study also found most autistic teens’ individualized education plans did not include driving goals, even though most autistic teens in the study were drivers or planning to become drivers. This suggests autistic teens may not receive the support they need to reach their driving goals.


  1. Huang, P., Kao, T., Curry, A. E., & Durbin, D. R. (2012). Factors associated with driving in teens with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics,33(1), 70-74. doi:10.1097/dbp.0b013e31823a43b7
  2. One in 3 teens with autism spectrum disorder receives driver’s license. (2017, April 11). Retrieved from

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  • Brandon


    April 25th, 2017 at 2:48 PM

    I am guessing that this is going to be very dependent on the severity of the autism and where exactly they fall on that spectrum.

  • phyllis


    April 26th, 2017 at 1:41 PM

    Families who live with this reality on a daily basis know all too well that the services and resources for them are seriously lacking, especially as the child ages out of the traditional youth systems that most states have established. The care for them and the help may be there until age 18 or perhaps 21, but after that it is all on the families to create things on their own. We all know that any of us would need help and guidance in situations like these but unfortunately for most families in most states, that help just isn’t there.

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