Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 46, Issue 4, pp 1379–1391 | Cite as

Driving Simulator Performance in Novice Drivers with Autism Spectrum Disorder: The Role of Executive Functions and Basic Motor Skills

  • Stephany M. Cox
  • Daniel J. Cox
  • Michael J. Kofler
  • Matthew A. Moncrief
  • Ronald J. Johnson
  • Ann E. Lambert
  • Sarah A. Cain
  • Ronald E. Reeve
Original Paper


Previous studies have shown that individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) demonstrate poorer driving performance than their peers and are less likely to obtain a driver’s license. This study aims to examine the relationship between driving performance and executive functioning for novice drivers, with and without ASD, using a driving simulator. Forty-four males (ages 15–23), 17 with ASD and 27 healthy controls, completed paradigms assessing driving skills and executive functioning. ASD drivers demonstrated poorer driving performance overall and the addition of a working memory task resulted in a significant decrement in their performance relative to control drivers. Results suggest that working memory may be a key mechanism underlying difficulties demonstrated by ASD drivers and provides insight for future intervention programs.


Autism spectrum disorder Driving Driving simulator Executive functions 



The authors would like to thank the participants and parents/caregivers who participated in our study. We would like to acknowledge their time, commitment, energy, and insight, which were critical for our research. This research was supported by a Department of Defense Autism Pilot Project award W81XWH-11-1-0787.

Author Contributions

SMC participated in the design and coordination of the study, performed the clinical measures and collected data for the ASD group, participated in developing the dataset, performing statistical analysis, interpretation of the data, and drafted the manuscript; DC conceived of the study, participated in the design and interpretation of the data, and helped to draft the manuscript; MK participated in the design of the study, participated in statistical methods and interpretation of the data, and helped to draft the manuscript; MM participated in developing dataset, performing statistical analysis and interpretation of the data; AL participated in the design and coordination of the parallel study for healthy controls (HC), also administered clinical measures and participated in design and interpretation of HC data that was utilized for this manuscript; RJ participated in the coordination of both the ASD and HC studies and administered the driving simulator protocol to participants from both groups; SAC participated in the coordination of the ASD study and administered clinical measures for ASD participants; RR participated in the design and coordination of the study and helped to draft the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Supplementary material

10803_2015_2677_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (648 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 1135 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephany M. Cox
    • 1
    • 3
  • Daniel J. Cox
    • 2
  • Michael J. Kofler
    • 1
    • 4
  • Matthew A. Moncrief
    • 2
  • Ronald J. Johnson
    • 2
  • Ann E. Lambert
    • 2
    • 5
  • Sarah A. Cain
    • 2
  • Ronald E. Reeve
    • 1
  1. 1.Clinical and School Psychology, Curry School of EducationUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences, School of MedicineUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA
  3. 3.Children’s National Medical CenterWashingtonUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA
  5. 5.California Department of Motor VehiclesSacramentoUSA

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