Most teens with high-functioning autism are behind the wheel or are planning to be, according to a first-of-it-kind study.

What’s more, those who are driving appear to be faring better safety-wise than their typically developing peers.

The findings are based on a national survey of nearly 300 parents of teens ages 15 to 18 with a diagnosis of autism, Asperger’s syndrome or pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified. Teens who were also diagnosed with intellectual disability were not included in the research, which was published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics this month.

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Of the teens with autism who were already driving, about 12 percent had received a ticket or been involved in a crash. Meanwhile statistics show that 31 percent of all teens have gotten a ticket and 22 percent have been in an auto accident.

The researchers suggest that the lower rate of problems among drivers with autism could be because these teens are sticklers for rules or because parents of those with the developmental disorder are more restrictive with driving privileges.

“Over the past decade, the rate of children diagnosed with (ASDs) has increased, meaning that more of those kids are now approaching driving age. Car crashes are the number one cause of death for teenagers, so it is important that we understand how (ASDs) impact driving and how to develop appropriate educational and evaluation tools,” said Patty Huang, a developmental pediatrician at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the lead author of the study.

Researchers found that among teens with autism, drivers are more likely to be those who are at least 17-years-old, attending regular education classes full-time and planning to go to college. However, these teens were unlikely to have any IEP goals pertaining to driving, which the study authors said presents a missed opportunity in transition planning.

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