CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Traffic stops are stressful for drivers and officers. They can be even more difficult, if the driver has a condition or disability that prevents them from speaking clearly to the officer. A new state law is trying to prevent that type of miscommunication.
Senate Bill 976 was passed during the legislative session earlier this year. It's named after Samuel Allen, a San Antonio man with autism who now advocates for others like him. The bill allows people with a health condition or disability that impacts their communication to indicate it on their vehicle registration. That allows the officer to know that information before approaching their vehicles during a traffic stop.
Previously, Texans were able to indicate a communication impediment but only on their driver's licenses or with a visible indicator on a license plate. This policy allows drivers to keep their diagnosis private.
Those diagnoses include autism, Asperger Syndrome, mild intellectual disability, deafness, hard of hearing, speech and languages disorders, expressive language disorder, Down syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, deafness, brain injury or Parkinson's disease.
"As soon as an officer pulls somebody over, when they pull the license plate, it'll automatically have that attachment to that license plate and registration," explained Nueces County tax assessor-collector Kevin Kieschnick. His office handles vehicle registration and licenses.
He believes the new policy protects the officer and the citizen.
"Trying to eliminate one potential miscue or misstep or misunderstanding can go a long way to make sure that officers are fully aware of what they're dealing with," Kieschnick told KRIS 6 News.
From a law enforcement perspective, Sgt. Nathan Brandley of the Texas Department of Public Safety said the new policy will help peace officers during these tense situations. He said it can help prevent escalation during traffic stops because of miscommunication.
"You already know going into it that there's going to be some type of communication barrier...so you know you're going to be able to use those tools to help the traffic stop go smoothly," Sgt. Brandley said.
He also said officers are better equipped to help drivers who may be misunderstood during a high-stress or emergency situation.
"If it did go bad for them during a stop, we're going to already know and we can get the help that they need right away," Sgt. Brandley added.
There's a form that requires verification from a doctor for people who choose to include the communication impediment with their vehicle registration. You can find the form online at www.TxDMV.org or you can click here to download Form VTR-216.