USC study aims to lessen risk for drivers with autism

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USC study aims to lessen risk for drivers with autism


PhD student Clara Silvi

21 June 2017

Innovative USC research into young drivers with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) will examine the learners’ licensing experiences, with the goal of minimising any extra road safety risk.

Psychology PhD student Clara Silvi from USC’s Adolescent Risk Research Unit, based at the University’s Thompson Institute, plans to survey and interview 90 learner drivers who have ASD. Volunteers are now sought on the Sunshine Coast.

“Increased road risk for young drivers is principally associated with age and driving inexperience, however the characteristics of ASD may also increase this risk,” said Ms Silvi of Mooloolaba.

“Other studies have shown that drivers with ASD, particularly males, were less likely to identify social hazards, had tactical difficulties and slower reaction times, and had been involved in more traffic crashes and violations than drivers without ASD.

“It was believed that situation awareness skills were less developed in young drivers with ASD, suggesting that people who find it difficult to process social information potentially experience greater safety risk when sharing the road with other drivers and cyclists.”

“My Honours study at USC in 2015 found the perceptions of learner drivers with ASD were different to the perceptions of their family members. Learners often focused on the logistics of driving whereas parents – usually the main driving instructors for the teens – focused on concerns about their teen’s past driving experiences in connection with ASD characteristics.”

Ms Silvi’s current PhD study, supervised by Senior Research Fellow Dr Bridie Scott-Parker and Professor Christian Jones, will observe participants in the driving simulator at USC’s Sippy Downs campus.

“We want to see what kind of challenges they face while driving and look at how to use their strengths to make the experience more positive and make the roads safer for themselves, as well as other users,” Ms Silvi said.

“After we examine their situational awareness and hazard perception, we can try to implement interventions that will assist them with driving.”

With an undergraduate degree in psychological science and qualifications in systematic behaviour management, addiction and mental health, Ms Silvi enrolled at USC in 2015 to further her knowledge after working interstate with high school students.

The USC study now seeks learner drivers aged between 16 and 24 with an Autism Spectrum diagnosis, along with their primary driving instructor parent.

The study will include participation in a driving-simulator activity, a survey, a short interview and two visits to USC’s campus over three months.

Professional driving instructors who have taught learners with ASD are also invited to participate in the study by sharing their experience and knowledge.

Potential participants can contact Ms Silvi at or call 5430 1165.

— Julie Schomberg

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