Taking the practical test with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Whether you’ve passed your theory test already or you just want to know more about taking the practical test with ASD, here’s some info you may want to know!
Driving test day is nerve-wracking at the best of times – but taking the practical test with ASD may seem more daunting if you’re not sure what to expect. Everyone experiences an Autism Spectrum Disorder differently, so we won’t say that there’s one right way to prepare for the test.
We shouldn’t group everyone with ASD into one category, as every individual will have varying behaviours, levels of ability, and characteristics.
All of these qualities make for a brilliantly diverse population, but it also makes it difficult to provide solid guidelines on how to approach driving. So, everything we say in this article will be very basic information, and it shouldn’t be generalised to everyone.
You may feel confident in preparing for your practical test, or you may decide that it isn’t the right choice for you. Either way, here’s some general guidelines based on information and real-life experiences of people who have taken the practical test with ASD.
We’ve also got a guide on taking the theory test with ASD that you may find helpful.
The practical test format
To pass the practical test, you must be able to:
- Drive safely in different road and traffic conditions.
- Show that you know The Highway Code by the way you drive.
The national standard for driving cars details everything you need to be able to do to pass the test. You should only take the test when you can do everything without instruction.
If you have ASD, you’ll still have to do the same practical test as all drivers and display the same ability. The test will last approximately 40 minutes.
There are 5 parts to the driving test:
- An eyesight check
- ‘Show me, tell me’ vehicle safety questions
- General driving ability
- Reversing your vehicle
- Independent driving
1. Eyesight test
You will have to read a number plate from a distance of:
- 20 metres for vehicles with a new-style of number plate (new-style number plates start with 2 letters followed by 2 numbers e.g. AB51 ABC)
- 5 metres for vehicles with an old-style number plate
If you fail the eye sight test you’ll fail the driving test, and the test will end straight away. Your instructor will come to collect you and drive you home safely.
2. ‘Show me, tell me’ questions
Your examiner will ask you to answer 2 vehicle safety questions:
- A ‘tell me’ question at the start of the test, where you will explain how something is done when driving e.g.
Q: Tell me how you’d know there was a problem with your anti-lock braking system
A: A warning light should illuminate if there is a fault with the anti-lock braking system
- A ‘show me’ question that you will have to demonstrate the answer to while you are driving
g. When it’s safe to do so, show me how to wash and clean the front windscreen
These questions are asked to demonstrate that you are comfortable with how to use your car, and that you can display important knowledge of vehicle safety.
3. General driving ability
During the test, you will drive in different road and traffic conditions, but not on motorways.
The examiner will give you directions and you’ll be asked to pull over onto the side of the road before pulling away again. These stops may include regular stops at the side of the road, pulling out from behind a parked vehicle, and a hill start.
NOTE: You may also be asked to carry out an emergency stop.
4. Reversing your vehicle
The examiner will ask you to do one of the following exercises:
- Parallel park at the side of the road
- Park in a parking bay – either by driving in and reversing out, or reversing in and driving out (the examiner will tell you which you have to do)
- Pull up on the right-hand side of the road, reverse for around 2 car lengths, and re-join the traffic
5. Independent driving
You’ll have to drive for about 20 minutes by following either:
- Directions from a sat nav
- Traffic signs
The examiner will tell you which you have to follow. They’ll set the sat nav up for you, and you can’t use your own.
The examiner won’t give you a driving test fault for taking a wrong turning – they’ll help you get back on route if you do. What matters most is that if you do take a wrong turning, you handle the situation well and continue to drive safely.
There are 3 types of faults you can make:
- A dangerous fault – this involves actual danger to you, the examiner, the public or property
- A serious fault – something potentially dangerous e.g. hitting the kerb when parallel parking
- A driving fault – this isn’t potentially dangerous, but if you keep making the same fault, it could become a serious fault e.g. indicating too early
You’ll pass your practical test if you make:
- no more than 15 driving faults (sometimes called ‘minors’)
- no serious or dangerous faults (sometimes called ‘majors’)
Check out our full guide on driving test faults for more information.
If you have any anxiety regarding taking the practical test with ASD, talk to someone that you trust for support. This could be a friend, family member, your GP, you driving instructor, or anyone!
If you’re part of any online forums (or perhaps a community) for people that have ASD, it may be helpful to speak to them and ask about their own experiences with driving.
We caught up with some learner drivers who shared their experience on learning to drive with anxiety which you may find helpful.
Do you have to tell DVLA if you have autism?
You don’t have to disclose your autism diagnosis to the DVLA unless it affects your ability to drive safely.
If autism does affect your ability to drive safely and you don’t disclose it to the DVLA, you may be fined up to £1000 and prosecuted if you’re in an accident. If you’re not sure, it’s a good idea to speak with your GP about the fact you’re going to learn to drive so you can run through the guidelines.
Some drivers with disabilities may be allowed extra time for their test, so it’s important to contact the DVLA prior to your test and discuss this with your instructor if you think that this may help.
While you will still have to display the same ability and meet the same criteria during your practical test, letting your examiner know that you have ASD will help them to consider your behaviours/needs/anxieties while you are driving and allow them to offer you additional support.
What happens on the day?
On the day of your practical test, you should make sure that you are well-rested; so try and get a good night’s sleep beforehand. You’ll need to demonstrate to your examiner that you have quick reactions to hazards and that you can assess your driving well, so sleeping well is vital.
- Your driving instructor will collect you from your home to go to the test centre. Most instructors will advise that you have an hour’s lesson before your test begins so that you can practise driving and relax. If your anxiety is particularly strong, you may even want to have a longer lesson to build your confidence in your abilities and feel prepared. This time will be particularly useful for practising manoeuvres, as well as general driving practise.
- After your lesson, you will drive yourself to the test centre and sign in at reception with your instructor. They will need to see your provisional licence and your theory test pass certificate, so don’t forget these.
- Your examiner will then call your name and ask to see your licence.
- You will then walk to your car with your examiner ready to begin your test. It’s your choice as to whether you want to have your instructor sit in the back of the car for the duration of your test. Some people find the extra support helpful, but the instructor is not allowed to give you any help or advice while you’re driving.
- Before getting in the car, you’ll have to do the eyesight test so that the examiner can agree that your sight is good enough to safely drive.
- Your test will then begin. You’ll have to take care in leaving the test centre so that you can demonstrate safe driving to your examiner from the beginning of the test.
- See the section on ‘the practical test format’ above to see what happens during the test.
- When the test is finished, you’ll drive back to the test centre, park up safely, and await your examiner’s decision as to whether you’ve passed or failed.
If you’ve passed…
Congratulations! If you’ve passed your test, your examiner will:
- Tell you what faults you made, if any
- Give you a pass certificate
- Ask you if you want your full licence to be sent to you automatically – you’ll need to give the examiner your provisional licence if you want to do this
Apply for your full driving licence within 2 years of passing your test if you don’t want to get your licence automatically.
You may also want to consider a Pass Plus course. This will help you get used to driving without the support of dual controls, and will show you how to drive on motorways. The course can take as little as a day, and many instructors provide it at an affordable rate – so check if your instructor can help you out. It will boost your confidence in your driving ability, and give you that last bit of extra practice with an instructor before starting to drive independently.
If you haven’t passed…
Don’t worry – the examiner will tell you what faults you made. If you decide that you want to book another test, you can bear these faults in mind and have more driving lessons to help you overcome these issues. You’ll have to pay again and choose a date at least 10 working days away.
If you have a negative experience during your practical test and decide that you don’t want to continue driving, then that’s completely okay! Learning to drive and going on your practical test shows great courage and determination – that’s something to be proud of whether you pass the test or not!
Now can be a great time to reach out to your friends, family, or community for other people that have ASD to seek support and encouragement. They may be able to reassure you that you have done something worth celebrating, or simply give you the chance to talk about your experience.
You can start driving straight away when you’ve passed your test. You don’t need to wait for your full licence to arrive.
Contact the DVSA if your full licence hasn’t arrived 3 weeks after you applied for it.
If you’ve passed and you want to borrow someone else’s car to carry on driving, we might be able to help you out with temporary insurance to borrow a friend or family member’s car for as little as 1 hour.
Or if you want to carry on learning, our learner driver insurance may be perfect for you. You can practice driving with a friend or family member to help build up your confidence ready for your driving test.