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What Are The Best Types Of Cars For Autistic Drivers?

  • April 18, 2022
  • Andrew Arboe

As with most things in life, different people like different types of cars. What car is best for autistic drivers is a question I am routinely asked during my presentations and workshops. I understand the desire to know which type of car to choose so that drivers can just focus on driving, but unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Even when just discussing the differences between gas and electric vehicles the decision of which type to go with can depend on many different factors. Each type can have different effects on turning, breaking and plenty of other things that are even easier to overlook. Another aspect that must be considered is the sensory needs of an autistic individual because driving involves many different senses every day. This makes this decision complicated but also crucial, and it is why it needs to be talked about more often, especially in driving schools and drivers’ education environments. I also believe autistic and neurodiverse individuals need to be talking about this more, and that is why in this blog post I am going to discuss how to decide between a gas or electric vehicle as an autistic driver. I can almost guarantee some of what I say will surprise you, likely because you simply never thought of it.

Gas Vehicles: This is the standard car engine that many cars today and throughout history have used. This type of engine uses gasoline to make it function. There are different types of gasoline, such as diesel, and different cars may require different types. This is another thing to be aware of when considering purchasing or renting a car, especially as, or if it’s for, a neurodivergent driver. Sensory-wise, the thing we need to talk about most is the smell. Most drivers can agree that driving, owning, and especially maintaining a gas engine can be smelly at times. Depending on an autistic individual’s preferences on smells, the gasoline smell may play role in a driver’s ability to feel comfortable or focused. I have met some autistic individuals who love the smell of gas and some who hate it, the point is this is an important factor to be aware of. Refilling the gas tank of a car will almost always include a heavy amount of gasoline smell, but it will also cost money and time. Though the actual refilling process tends to only take a few minutes and is under $20, the price is often changing, and pulling into a gas station and paying takes a few minutes as well. Getting gas is a major part of driving a gas vehicle. This means that owning this type of car often contains a fair amount of budgeting for gas on a consistent basis. You can’t go anywhere without gas in the tank. This leads us to the last thing I want to talk about with gas vehicles though, which is fuel efficiency. If a car has low fuel efficiency, it means the car is going to require more gas than a car with high fuel efficiency to drive the same distance. This can have a huge effect on costs, particularly because gas is such a consistent expense for routine drivers.

Electric Vehicles: The first thing that stands out when discussing electric vehicles is that they require electricity instead of gas. This means that you will never have to get gas again, which saves you a considerable amount of money. This will also save you time and energy that may have been spent budgeting or stopping for gas, which as mentioned above, can be a lot. As for how far an electric car can drive on a full charge compared to a gas vehicle on a full tank, from what I’ve seen they are pretty similar. It’s also important to mention that electric vehicles do not use gasoline, which means the driver doesn’t have to deal with the smell of gasoline. Electric vehicles actually tend to be lighter on a lot of the senses. For instance, if you expect any noise like a typical gas-powered car, you would be mistaken because electric cars tend to be very quiet. This can be very valuable for drivers with autism or ADHD who may have trouble paying attention to the road. I have seen the sound of a loud gas engine distract drivers before. Like gas vehicles though, there are also inconveniences that autistic drivers need to consider as well. The first is knowing the charging locations in your town, especially in a small town. These locations are becoming increasingly common and are typically at parking locations which can be extremely convenient as the car can charge as a driver runs errands or goes to a meeting. However, these charging locations are still much less common and noticeable than gas stations regardless of where you are. Electric cars also can take quite a long to charge up, as opposed to gas vehicles that typically only take a few minutes to fill. This means a lot more planning needs to go into driving if someone owns an electric vehicle. Once again, some autistic individuals I’ve met really enjoy this, and some do not. While they no longer need to plan on getting gas, they do need to make sure their car is always charged when they need to drive. This sometimes means not being able to drive after plans are suddenly changed because the car isn’t charged enough yet. While effective planning can definitely minimize any headaches this may cause, it is another important factor to be aware of.

Let’s refer back to the title of this blog post, “What are the best cars for autistic drivers”? Regardless of what car an autistic individual wants to get, the best answer is their own individual preference. Individual preference is so important for every decision autistic people, and neurodiverse individuals in general make. It is up to them to decide what type of car they want. When you buy a car, you get to make a lot of decisions. It’s all about having the information and tools to make those decisions effectively. If you want a cd player, you can pick a car with that feature, same with headlights that automatically turn on and off, adjustable seats, and tons of other unique features. It is always important to address the sensory needs before one gets into the driver's seat and especially with buying a new car. That means just the feel or smell of the seats or steering wheel could be important. Know what works for you and take it from there. You are the master of your own car, and you decide what it’s like. If you are still not sure what you want, we at Driving with Autism can help you find the right options for you and make the best decisions possible.

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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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