NEW JERSEY – To help facilitate successful interactions between law enforcement officers and individuals with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or communication disorder, Governor Phil Murphy Monday signed a bipartisan bill (S-761) to allow New Jersey residents to request an official indication of their diagnosis on their state driver’s license or non-driver identification.
This notation aims to empower New Jerseyans with an ASD or other communication disorder to comfortably communicate their needs while also helping law enforcement understand the increased potential for communication challenges during encounters – such as traffic stops – to reduce the likelihood of dangerous misunderstandings.
“The ability to opt into this new notation on a State ID will allow more of our residents to rest easy that they or their loved one can expect greater understanding and accommodations for their unique communication needs during encounters with law enforcement,” Murphy said. “Making it easier for officers to identify situations where a different approach may be necessary and training them on how to adjust their communication tactics accordingly will benefit both law enforcement professionals and the individuals they serve by promoting safer, more productive interactions going forward.”
The bill also requires the New Jersey Commissioner of Human Services and the Attorney General to work together in consultation with the Department of Law and Public Safety and at least one advocacy organization to develop guidance to help law enforcement officers understand how to effectively communicate with people who have these diagnoses.
“Enhancing awareness, understanding, and training are key to improving outcomes between law enforcement and New Jerseyans with developmental conditions. I thank Governor Murphy for signing this bill to advance those ongoing efforts,” said Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin. “We look forward to working with the Department of Human Services and our community partners to develop guidance to assist law enforcement officers in effectively communicating with individuals with an autism spectrum or communication disorder.”
“The Motor Vehicle Commission looks forward to adding an option to signify an autism spectrum disorder or communication disorder on a New Jersey driver license or non-driver ID,” said Motor Vehicle Commission Acting Chief Administrator Latrecia Littles-Floyd. “This measure will reduce the chance for any miscommunications that might occur between the public and law enforcement. It will also add an important layer of protection for anyone with an autism spectrum disorder or communication disorder diagnosis, allowing them to navigate our roads and communities more safely.”
“I commend Governor Murphy and the sponsors for advancing this new law,” said Human Services Commissioner Sarah Adelman. “Our goal, always, is to empower individuals with autism spectrum disorder and other unique needs, and that includes providing a new mechanism for autistic individuals to disclose their disability if they choose. And by working with the Attorney General to provide education and support to law enforcement, we are making progress towards creating a more inclusive state.”
The law builds upon efforts such as the creation of a Statewide Mental Health and Special Needs Steering Committee by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office to promote collaboration between advocates and law enforcement agencies regarding strategies to improve law enforcement interactions with residents who have special needs.
People with at least one of these diagnoses or their parent, guardian, or caregiver who want to request this official notation on their license or ID must submit the required documentation to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission.
Sponsors of the bill include Senator Nellie Pou and Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez, as well as Senator Kristin Corrado and Assembly members Aura Dunn and Thomas Giblin.
“I am so pleased that this bill was signed into law. Over the last year and a half, I have been contacted by constituents with communication disabilities that say they have difficulty explaining their condition to law enforcement during vehicle traffic stops,” said Corrado (R-40). “This legislation will help alleviate that issue by allowing people with disabilities to have that designation printed directly onto their license. This important information will assist law enforcement officials in identifying, and effectively communicating with, individuals with ASD during vehicle stops.”
“This has been a long, worthwhile process, but in the end folks from all sides came together to recognize the unique challenges facing those who live on the autism spectrum,” said Senator Nellie Pou. “Some common traits of autism spectrum disorder, such as little or no eye contact, or other communication difficulty might cause misunderstanding with others, including police officers on patrol. Having a driver’s license or ID card that can readily clarify a person’s diagnosis in the event of a traffic stop or some other encounter will enhance communication and lead to better outcomes for all.”
“Getting pulled over is often very stressful and can be especially distressing to people with autism spectrum disorder. For those with autism, flashing lights and loud sirens can lead to nervousness, which can then lead to behaviors like avoiding eye contact, repetitive speech, or the need to repeat physical motions,” said Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez. “This law is necessary to offer guidance for law enforcement and ensure that traffic stops for residents with autism are handled in a respectable and calming manner.”
“Interactions with law enforcement require clear communication, and first impressions are critical to everyone’s safety,” said Dr. Suzanne Buchanan, Executive Director of Autism New Jersey. “A simple notation on a driver’s license, along with proper guidance, improves law enforcement’s ability to understand and interact with an individual with autism. We are grateful to the Governor and the Legislature for enacting this legislation and taking an important step to make New Jersey more autism friendly.”
“The New Jersey Speech-Language-Hearing Association (NJSHA) thanks Governor Murphy for signing S-761 and appreciates the work of Senators Pou and Corrado and Assemblywomen Lopez and Dunn in ensuring that law enforcement officers are well-prepared for any interaction they may have with an individual with a communication disorder,” said Kathleen Palatucci, President of NJSHA. “NJSHA has dedicated years to developing trainings and guidance for law enforcement to accomplish these same goals. NJSHA stands ready to share this knowledge and expertise with our government partners and will continue our work to assist in these efforts.”