Mich. drivers with 'communication impediments' can alert police with new tool

The optional database aims to improve police interaction between persons with autism or hearing impairments


By Lauren Gibbons
mlive.com

LANSING, Mich. — People with communication impediments can voluntarily disclose that information to the Michigan Secretary of State to make law enforcement officers aware during a traffic stop under a new law that took effect this month.

The new policy, which passed both the House and Senate with bipartisan support last year, allows anyone with autism, hearing loss and other conditions that could cause communication impediments during an interaction with law enforcement to disclose that information with the Secretary of State when obtaining a driver’s license or registering their vehicle.

People interested in the designation provide a certification from their doctor or healthcare provider to the Secretary of State. The information wouldn’t be public or show up on a person’s license, but would appear on the Law Enforcement Information Network, a computer system used by police during traffic stops.

[READ: 3 steps toward understanding autism challenges during traffic stops]

During a press conference promoting the new law Monday, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and advocates who worked to get the policy through the Legislature could help put people with communication impediments at ease and better prepare law enforcement for the interaction.

“Alerting law enforcement to the needs of the citizens they interact with helps ensure the safety and comfort of everyone involved,” Benson said.

Xavier DeGroat, the founder and CEO of the Xavier DeGroat Autism Foundation, was one of the key advocates of the policy change as it wound its way through the Legislature. He was inspired to pursue the designation after he got pulled over for going over the speed limit in Lansing several years ago — he said the stress of the situation made it hard for him to communicate effectively with the officer.

“With those sirens going off...I didn’t know how to react properly to the officer that didn’t properly come near me with sensory-friendly interaction,” he said. He said he hopes more publicity about the new law will encourage more people with autism and other communication impediments to take advantage.

Michigan joins a handful of other states, including Texas, in offering the designation option for people with communication impediments.

[NEXT: Autism training for police officers: The basics of response]

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