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traffic jam in a city

Tips and Tricks For Autistic Drivers In A City

  • May 27, 2022
  • Andrew Arboe

One environment that I have repeatedly found to be a challenge for drivers, autistic or not, is cities. Compared to driving in rural and suburban areas, urban areas can be intense to navigate due to many city-specific sensory conditions. Urban areas can be incredibly busy during the morning and late afternoon and traffic is just the beginning. Drivers consistently have to engage in more defensive driving because of how unpredictable these areas are. From very specific lanes to be on, one-way streets, people continuously crossing the street, and the constant stimuli present these can be the number one toughest environment to drive in for many. Even for myself, these settings are challenging at times. The work I have done in starting Driving with Autism has taught me pretty much everything there is to know about driving in cities, and it can still be difficult. That is why we are going over a few tips to make driving in cities and urban settings easier for any driver.

Create a Routine Route: If you must consistently drive in the same area of a city, use that to your advantage. The toughest part of driving in a city is dealing with the unexpected, and that can be mitigated by having a consistent route that you get to know. When you create a routine around it you can start to learn what to expect. You get to know which roads are one-way, where the busiest crosswalks are, and the best place to park. Strategizing around creating the best routine can also lead to smart decisions that save you time and stress. For example, when parking in the city for work I use a parking lot that is right off the highway. This way I never have to actually deal with a lot of city traffic. Not only does this make parking in the morning easier, but it also makes leaving work in the afternoon easier as well. It cuts out a lot of the stress, anxiety, and sensory difficulties that come with driving to a city. Autistic drivers have the right to choose the routes they drive-in, so you have many choices to pick from to build a routine that you can expect and feel prepared for.

Be Cautious: This is crucial not only for minimizing anxiety as an autistic driver but also for maximizing safety. While driving in a city it is important to have a low speed. Try to be as close to the speed limit as possible. The reason city driving is so chaotic is because of all the many different things that happen on a road. There is a sense of order to city driving, as any routine city driver will tell you, but there are more things to be aware of and watch out for. This concept generalizes to everything in a city. Be careful about expecting any person or vehicle to act in a certain way, especially when it comes to traffic. Expecting the unexpected not only means thinking through different possibilities but also leaving room for possibilities that haven’t been considered. People in cities will often surprise you, and if you are ready for it you can handle it safely and efficiently.

Stay Focused: Okay, picture this: You are driving in a city on one lane of a multilane road in midafternoon. That may sound simple, but there are quite a few things to be alert for. People can come out of nowhere; they are unpredictable, and you have to be able to react if someone on the side of the street decides to step into it. Another thing to be on the lookout for is buses. Busses are the norm in these settings, and they are often everywhere. They pull over to make routine stops and take very wide turns. A third thing you need to focus on is the lane signs. Some lanes go a very specific route and not all turns have a left green arrow light. Navigating a city can be confusing, and it’s very possible to find yourself lost or going in circles. In this case, understanding street signs in the city is crucial, especially lane signs. The fourth and last thing I want to go over to focus on that every driver should be alert for is other drivers. You never know how other drivers will act, and in cities, there is often more chaotic driving than in rural areas, for many different reasons. Part of it is just how busy the roads are and how difficult it can be to drive anywhere quickly. This is one of the reasons why New York City is noted for chaotic driving conditions. This may sound like a lot to be aware of, and it is, but you do get used to it. The trick is to be cautious and give yourself as much time and space as possible to react to any of the situations.

City driving can be very stressful to manage, but with some planning, it can be exponentially more doable. At the same time, if city driving proves to be more of an issue for you, it is okay to make the decision to not drive in cities, which many do. If you live in a city there is likely public transportation, and if you don’t live in a city find someone who is willing to drive you on the occasions that you do want to drive through a city. The important thing is to do what works best for you because that is what’s going to be the most comfortable and assured, which are vital to driving safely in cities. I hope this blog post helped you understand city driving and how to make the most of it. Driving with Autism is here to empower drivers in making the most of their learning to drive experiences!

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Andrew Arboe is the Founder of Driving with Autism and specializes in helping autistic drivers and their families pursue driving as a transportation option. He found his path in driving because of his personal experiences learning how to drive, while autistic. He saw the difficulties that a lack of resources and research can add to transportation, which connects people to opportunities, employment, and secondary education. It is for those reasons he chose to challenge the lack of resources by presenting workshops, consulting with autistic individuals and parents, and much more. Andrew knows that he cannot speak for everyone’s experience, so he embraces using tips, tricks, and important concepts to help new drivers create their own roadmap for learning to drive.


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