Special Need Teen & Young Adult Drivers

In North Carolina, teens under 18 years of age are required to complete 30 hours of classroom driver education and 6 hours of behind the wheel instruction to be eligible to obtain a Driver Permit. Teens must be at least 14 ½ to begin driver education classes.

A young adult over 18 can obtain a driver permit at the local DMV without prior classroom instruction. The individual will need to pass a 25 question test regarding rules of the roadway and legal driving requirements, the road sign test and vision test to be eligible for their permit. Two forms of identification (original birth certificate and social security card preferred) will be required. A $20 fee is also required.

Individualized Intervention

Special Needs Teens and young adults with cognitive, behavioral, physical or visual challenges may require individualized intervention to achieve driving independence. We have had great success in aiding special needs individuals in their pursuit of independent driving.

Students referred for services will first complete a comprehensive driver evaluation. During this evaluation functional skills are assessed, adaptive equipment needs are determined, and training interventions are outlined. Assessments include testing of a student’s physical skills, vision and perceptual functioning, cognitive capacities, and behind the wheel abilities.

During behind the wheel testing, adaptive equipment may be trialed if warranted. Equipment available for trial includes a variety of styles of hand-controls, left foot accelerator, pedal extenders, booster seats, and steering orthotics.

Obtaining Services

If it is probable that driving is a realistic goal, the special need teens should complete their classroom driver’s education through their local high school prior to contacting Driver Rehabilitation Services to schedule a comprehensive driver evaluation.

Clinical evaluations are available for special needs teens that have not completed a classroom driver’s education course due to challenges with cognitive impairments. This testing will aid in determining if driving is an achievable goal and if the teen should enroll in classroom instruction.

Referrals are accepted from the teen’s parent/guardian, driver education teacher/coordinator, vocational rehabilitation counselor or other school system personnel. We will assist the student in determining if the school system will pay for the driver evaluation. If classroom driver’s education has been completed, a copy of the teen’s restricted instruction permit (SBTS-800 form) from the teen’s school system is required prior to scheduling services.


Safety behind the wheel is the most important goal and is achieved through specialized intervention strategies and training outlined at the evaluation. For teens under 18, the goal is to provide sufficient behind the wheel experience that the teen and a licensed driver/parent can continue to build driving skills as required by the state of North Carolina graduated licensing process. For teens over 18, the goal is often to aid the young adult in obtaining their license by passing of the DMV road test as part of their driver training. Safe driving and independent decision making is emphasized. Specific skills required to pass the road test are coached during the training process.

Click here to access the NCDMV Handbook and Graduated Licensing Information

Disability Profiles


Individuals with autism spectrum disorders may benefit from a comprehensive driver evaluation to determine readiness for behind the wheel driver training following completion of their classroom driver’s education course. The evaluation will aid in determining individualized plans for successful independent driving. Recommendations are provided regarding pre-driving skill development, in car skill development, compensatory driving strategies for cognitive deficits and specialized behind the wheel instruction.

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy (CP) refers to non progressive motor disorders typically present from birth. CP varies widely from person to person. Individuals may experience visual or cognitive impairments and may or may not use a wheelchair or other mobility aids. Common factors affecting safe driving include:
limitations in strength and range of motion
uncoordinated movements
increased muscle tone
visual difficulties
slowed reaction time and cognitive processing
CP students may require hand controls or other adaptive equipment aids to achieve successful licensure.

Physical Challenged Clients

Individuals with the following physical challenges often require adaptive equipment and specialized training in modified vehicles that school based driver training programs may not be able to provide:
Spinal Cord Injuries – may require hand controls, driver seating modifications, vehicle entry/exit equipment, wheelchair stowage devices, torso support aids, etc.
Dwarfism/Short Statured – may require pedal extensions, hand controls, or modification for seating needs
Amputations, Upper or Lower Extremities - may require equipment such as hand controls, left foot accelerator, steering orthotics, or modifications for transporting scooters or wheelchairs. It is critical to evaluate a student’s abilities to interface prosthetic limbs with adaptive driving aids.
Spina Bifida – may require hand controls, driver seating modifications, vehicle entry/exit equipment, wheelchair stowage devices, torso support aids, etc.