Attemping to Prevent Sensory Overload While Driving

Today, I drove a car without an instructor and attempted to prevent sensory overload.

I’ve tried different ways of preventing sensory overload such as:

  • Keeping the windows closed.
  • Keeping the fan low.
  • Turning off the radio.
  • Using only one ear plug. In BC, you’re allowed only one headphone in an ear.
  • Covering the other ear when it’s noisy if it can be safely done. For example, when there’s a loud passing vehicle.
  • Avoiding excessive noise even when stopped between driving sessions so that less recovery time is required. For example, while shopping.


With sensory overload, it’s easy to get distracted by irrelevant sounds. Non-autistic people tend to even agree that it’s easy to tune out many kinds of irrelevant sounds but for autistic people, it can be a different story as shown in Willow Hope’s sensory overload simulation video.

When driving, it’s important to be alert and fit to drive. That’s why I feel it’s important to avoid sensory overload when driving.

If you find noises distracting for driving, you should minimize them if possible. At the same time, you need to be able to hear warnings. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

It’s hard to say whether sensory overload becomes less of a concern when we get better at driving. Maybe driving will be easier as we get used to it which frees up brain resources. Maybe we’ll learn other ways of driving more cautiously.

Do you think sensory overload is a concern for autistic people when driving? Please let me know by commenting below.



Can Sensory Overload Affect Driving Performance and Safety


Before learning driving, I had concerns that sensory overload can affect safety when driving.

Even before I drove a car, I felt that the lack of alertness from sensory overload may be a concern in terns of safety. I found out that it may actually be valid when I started driving lessons!

In cars, the noise sources include engines, traffic, vibrations, wind, fans, radios, and conversations. Even with the windows closed, it can still be loud enough to trigger sensory overload in autistic people. I measured at least 80 dBC with a Scoche decibel meter in cars. That’s comparable to a vacuum cleaner! With the windows open, it can get even louder.

When I had driving lessons, I seem to need reminders from supervisors even though I had more than few months of lessons. The reminders include shoulder checking, 360° scanning, mirror checking, signalling, and turning off the signal lights. In the first few lessons, the instructor was happy with my performance. After more lessons, there was a lack of progress.

In today’s driving lesson, I learned something new about my sensory overload. Thankfully, my instructor noted improved performance when the windows were closed even though they were open at least 10 minutes ago.

Signs of sensory overload in driving may include

  • Not noticing the clicks from turn signals which can make the driver seem forgetful when the turn signal is left on after turning or changing lanes
  • Not driving confidently
  • The need for excessive double checking
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of interest
  • Difficulties staying in the lane
  • Slower reaction times
  • Driving more slowly so that there’s more time to react
  • Forgetting safety procedures such as mirror checks, shoulder checks, and signalling
  • The need for more reminders from the supervisor
  • Lack of improvement in performance
  • Variability in performance
  • Not noticing that noise sources are distracting or noisy
  • Reduced performance in other areas such as socializing, work performance, and school performance
  • Other autism symptoms becoming more serious

From the symptoms, you might see how dangerous driving may be with sensory overload. With driving, since it tends to be at higher speeds, alertness is very important. At high speeds, a small change of time means a large change of distance. It can also make it harder to pass road tests. I agree that we should only drive when we are fit to do so for the safety of the driver, passengers, and other road users.

I don’t know how sensory overload can be prevented while driving since ear plugs and ear muffs aren’t options as we need to be able to hear car horns and sirens. Some motorcyclists use them to protect their hearing. It makes sense for them because they’re not in an enclosed space. Closing the windows, turning down the fan, and turning off the radio can reduce but may not eliminate it. Would it make driving safe for the driver?

It would seem like autistic drivers need restrictions such as noise levels to be able to drive safely. I think predictable performance is important for our road safety. Maybe they should look for safety features when shopping for a car or if it’s still unsafe, use a self-driving car instead.

I can’t conclude that my sensory overload is less serious than in other people on the autism spectrum. I’ve personally met autistic people who drive and are sensitive to noise. They wear hearing protection most of the time at work. I don’t know how much it affects their driving.

I think if a person zones out, distracting noises are less noticeable. That doesn’t mean the person became immune to them. It’s possible that since it’s too subtle, the need for accommodations are easier to be overlooked. It might be mistaken for a lack of sleep, not having the natural ability to learn driving, a lack of interest, and daydreaming instead when the performance suffers. The person may need reminders to use hearing protection or cover the ears.

I think even if an autistic person doesn’t seem too sensitive to noise, it should still be checked out especially when the performance is unsatisfactory. The person should still be allowed hearing protection. We should look for subtle signs of partial shutdowns too. Not just the more obvious meltdowns or ears being covered. Not all autistic people are very expressive and their symptoms may be different from those listed above.

Do you know how autism or sensory overload affects driving? Please feel free to comment below.

Starting Polarized Training Easy Bike Rides

I’m starting polarized training for my bike rides. It’s supposed to be more effective for improving fitness levels.

I started the new method on August 14. Before that, I pushed too hard for most of my rides, possibly causing overtraining and not improving.

You can read more about the method from Bike Parts Review.

With polarized training, around 80% of your workouts should be low intensity or zone 1 and around 20% should be high intensity or zone 4 or 5 after being properly recovered. Tempo heart rate zone or zone 3 is discouraged because it’s too intense for high volume and too gentle for maximum fitness improvements.

If you have an active commute, four days might be easy and one day might be hard. According to one of the replies, this method is best when the volume is at least 15 hours.

For my easy workouts, I try to keep my heart rate in zone 1 which is below 70% of maximum. Zone 1 is commonly recommended for warm-ups and active recovery. It’s important to avoid coasting because you’ll spend less time exercising.

I haven’t done my hard workouts yet. The heart rate should be in zone 4 or 5 which is at least 90% of maximum with rests between intervals. For longer intervals, an exercise bike is recommended for avoiding interruptions caused by traffic lights and stop signs.

I think the method makes sense and the articles are very encouraging.

Have you done polarized training? Do you have any advice for the method? Please feel free to share your comments below.

Revisiting Polarized Training

The Athletic Time Machine

Rabbit and TurtleEvery now and then, some new information comes along that just blows away everything that I was taught about training.  Even more rare is the when older research gets updated and repackaged in a way that surprises me in startling new ways.  Both happened to me last when I dug deeper into the research around something called “polarized training.”  It may fundamentally change the way that I train– and you may want to try it as well.

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You’ll get used to it…

Autism and expectations

‘You’ll get used to it.” They said, and I waited. I waited for that Cat on a Hot Tin Roof click in my head that would mean it had settled into background noise.

But it never came.

Not for the seams on my socks, or the band of my bra, or the brace for my teeth or the glasses on my nose. Not for the elastic on my arms, or the lump in my sole. Not for the small pains or the big ones.

“You’ll desensitise with time.” They said.

So I gave it time.

More and more ticks and tocks, I poured them all into the deepening, widening hole of time. I gave it a year, then ten, then twenty, then thirty, and more. I gave it patience and space. I used distraction and all my tricks.

But still it stayed.

“There,” they said, “I told you all it…

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Use of heart rate monitors by endurance athletes: Lessons from Triathletes


Heart rate monitor from MIO - Click image to check it out Heart rate monitor from MIO – Click image to check it out

Monitoring our heart’s physiological response to changes in exercise intensity during physical activity – that’s a fancy way of saying your heart rate going up & down – can be used as an effective tool in hitting athletic performance targets.

Now some triathletes/cyclists/runners might be reading this & thinking ‘I have seen all this before, just another gimmick’; so before I start stressing the real science behind it, I want to take this heart rate monitor story from Mark Allen, only the second six-time Ironman Triathon World Champion:

I came from a swimming background, which in the 70’s and 80’s when I competed was a sport that lived by the “No Pain, No Gain” motto. My coach would give us workouts that were designed to push us to our limit every single day. I would go…

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