All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Despina Stavrinos

Advisory Committee Members

Fred J Biasini

Robin G Lanzi

Document Type

Thesis

Date of Award

2016

Degree Name by School

Master of Arts (MA) College of Arts and Sciences

Abstract

The leading cause of death among adolescents is motor vehicle collisions, which may be due to a number of factors including inexperience and incomplete brain development. These risks may be even more prominent for young drivers with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) because of additional impairments in processing speed, social communication and emotional regulation. Despite elevated safety risks, little research has considered the impacts of ASD on driving. This study aimed to characterize driving performance and hazard perception of drivers with ASD, specifically various types of hazards (e.g., pedestrians or other cars). The study also aimed to investigate factors that predict driving performance. Drivers with ASD, drivers with ADHD and typically developing drivers drove in a simulator embedded with a series of hazards classified as either social (e.g., containing a visible human element) or non-social (e.g., no visible human element). An assessment battery measuring motor coordination, processing speed and social skill was used to identify potential predictors. Six indicators of driving performance were recorded by the driving simulator: (1) standard deviation of lane position (RMS), (2) reaction time to hazards, (3) standard deviation of speed, (4) average driving speed, (5) motor vehicle collisions (MVCs) and (6) number of speed exceedances. Results indicated that drivers with ASD drove significantly more slowly and had marginally less speed variability than drivers with ADHD. All participants had faster reactions times, fewer MVCs and drove slower around social driving hazards vs. non-social hazards. Drivers with ADHD and those with typical development had faster reaction times to social vs. non-social hazards whereas no difference was found for drivers with ASD. For ASD participants, age, driving experience, and ASD symptoms predicted simulated MVCs, while gender predicted simulated speed exceedances. Together, findings suggest that drivers with ASD may drive more cautiously compared to their ADHD counterparts and may not respond to social hazards the same way as drivers without social impairment. Future studies are needed to further investigate the differences in driving behaviors across developmental disabilities and how these driving behaviors may impact overall driving safety in these vulnerable road users.

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