As of July 1, Michigan drivers with medical conditions that cause communication difficulties can disclose this information on a government database to alert law enforcement officers during traffic stops.
The policy, which passed in the House and Senate with bipartisan support last year, allows those with autism, hearing loss or other communication-impairing conditions to report them when obtaining a driver’s license or registering their vehicle.
To obtain the designation, drivers must provide certification from their doctor or health-care provider. The information is not public and is not printed onto the driver’s license, but does appear on the Law Enforcement Information Network database, according to MLive. The database is a computer system that police officers use during traffic stops and contains the driver’s vehicle information and traffic history.
The designation does not include additional costs, but an individual must submit the form by mail or by visiting a branch in person.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and other advocates for the measure hope that the policy will better prepare law enforcement for interactions with people suffering from communication impairments, and will “diminish anxiety surrounding these interactions.”
“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, founder of the Xavier DeGroat Autism Foundation, was one of the advocates for the policy change. He said he experienced a panic attack during a traffic stop for speeding a year before due to the stress of the situation and was unable to communicate.
“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.
DeGroat hopes that more publicity about the new law will encourage more people with autism and other communication impediments to take advantage of the opportunity.
Michigan joins a few other states, including Texas, in allowing those with communication impairments to make such information available to officers in the event of a traffic stop.
Metro Times found that more than a third of all use-of-force incidents with police involve people with physical or developmental disabilities, and that Americans with communication-related disabilities are three time likelier than their peers to be victims of a violent crime.