Young woman driver.

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Changes in Australian rules could see autistic drivers banned

Australia's recent road safety initiative has offended the neurodiverse community, with the possibility of legislative bans on autistic drivers.

Australia's recent road safety initiative has offended the neurodiverse community, with the possibility of legislative bans on autistic drivers.

According to The Australian Psychological Society those with autism may have to prove they are medically fit to drive and if they can't, could face fines of up to $9,288 and lose their license. Further, the article outlines that because of these repercussions, some will be swayed from getting a vital diagnosis, or have to prioritize precious NDIS funding for medical assessments. 

The reasons for such bans? Distraction and the inability to recognise tailgating. Emily Geraghty, a content creator with a late diagnosis of autism, has spoken with the ABC outlining her reasons for feeling so perturbed. Another article by the ABC also explains the mishmash of laws in each state for autistic drivers. But really, this sort of precedent should offend every driver - it's not focussed on mitigating the majority of issues that cause road fatalities much at all. 

According to Eclipse Driving School, the top six reasons for fatal driving accidents in Australia, includes speeding, road accidents from drunk driving, failure to give way at notorious hot spots in WA, fatigue and drowsiness, distracted driving through illegal mobile phone use, and car defects. 

Under the new laws, autism is being put on par with eye conditions and epilepsy. With the latter two conditions, you don't have a choice. If you can't see or have a medical episode, a fatality is almost inevitable. But people with autism can overcome distractibility and drive safely with enough focus and support. 

Driving for some with disabilities can be a form of cognitive behavioral therapy or neuroplasticity. The more you do it, the better at it you become. As someone with low level autism, I was terrible at driving when I started. I nearly ended up in someone's driveway and it took me three times to get my license, even after many lessons. Not having a car was impractical and I felt incompetent and stupid for failing so many times. Back then I didn't know I possessed any neurodiversity. I just thought I was dumb. But I persisted. Due to those failures I am a much better driver, not being over confident. As for those with extremely high level autism, they aren't usually driving anyway. 

Under the new laws, people with autism will have less of a chance to even start their driving journey, which in my opinion, unfairly encroaches upon their ability to achieve full adult independence and perpetuates the stereotype of autistic adults as “childlike”. From the point of view of allowing people with disabilities to access to the full scope of their human rights while also balancing other concerns like community safety on the roads, the new laws tip too far in the direction of community safety at the cost of human rights. 

As for distraction? Just about everybody's distracted. If it's not PEDs, it's the radio or talking to your fellow passengers. I remember a car in front of us once when my husband was country driving. One minute they're doing sixty, the next they slam their brakes on, swerving away from double lines on a road. What did we notice in the end?-They were talking. What I find very distracting as a driver, is the endless change in speed limits I must always be focussed on to avoid fines or demerit points.

Perhaps this latest campaign serves as some kind of revenue raising exercise. Insurance and car registration premiums for younger drivers are already unfairly high. As is well known this is geared towards generalised statistical data that younger drivers are more of a liability. If a moratorium doesn't go ahead it may culminate in some kind of default insurance premium or registration cost hike, where autism is considered a risk. An autistic actuarial radar is still lucrative.

According to Ben Zachariah in Drive magazine, imposing fines is tantamount to revenue raising. As he outlines, the Andrew's government in Victoria for example, lists the amount of revenue raised from driving fines and monies gained for the fiscal budget this year. That's despite Australian's having a higher safety record. Even the Victorian Department of Treasury happily lists increasing costs of fines. Currently in Queensland, drivers without medical clearance that they are fit to drive with autism can be fined up to $9000 or more. Meanwhile in Victoria, I’m nervously awaiting the possibility of a $500 fine for crossing the last line of an intersection on a red light. 

Hiking up insurance and registration premiums for neurodiverse demographics is the same thing - desire for revenue raising, but keeping the community safe or making money is one thing, it's another to continually stereotype a community group who is often already told they are way too incompetent. To add, it's actually making them pay for it or completely impeding freedoms. As per Job Access, they are among some of the most poorly employed members of the community, where having no car serves as further disadvantage.

That's a disaster waiting to happen.