BOSTON (WWLP) – A bill being considered by lawmakers in Boston could protect drivers with a disability. The 22News I-Team spoke with advocates who say this bill could make the roads safer for both people with autism and law enforcement officers.
Nicknamed the “Blue Envelope Bill,” it would let officers know that a driver has autism with a simple blue envelope.
“He loves to follow the rules. People with autism frequently love to follow the rules,” said Ilyse Levine-Kanji, who has a 25-year-old son, Sam, with autism. He’s had his license since 2016 and has never been involved in any traffic stops but Levine-Kanji says Sam might panic if he were to get pulled over.
“He might be unable to follow basic verbal directions, and give the officer cause to think there’s something more going on,” said Levine-Kanji.
A recent study by the National Institutes of Health found that people with autism often reported bad experiences with law enforcement along with negative emotions and limited understanding of what was going on. Another study done in 2016 found that about one third of police shootings involve a person with a disability.
“Their behavior could be misinterpreted as being rude or threatening simply because they don’t understand social cues and personal space,” said Levine-Kanji.
Advocates say this new bill being considered by lawmakers at the State House would protect drivers with autism. People with autism would be able to show a blue envelope if they were ever pulled over for a traffic stop or involved in a crash. It would let the officer know their diagnosis, triggers, and would have emergency contact information on it. A similar program is already in effect in Connecticut.
State Senator Jo Comerford is a big supporter, “It’s an immediate signal to the officer that they are about to speak with someone who has autism, and the police officer can do something in terms of their tone, the speed at which they speak, perhaps the lights of their car, how fast they want an answer.”
The idea for the blue envelope bill was developed right here in western Massachusetts on the campus of UMass Amherst.
“I quickly thought about this more globally on a statewide vs. my perspective on campus,” said UMass Police Chief Tyrone Parham. He sent a survey out to 350 police chiefs across the state, all who responded supported the bill.
“Officers would be trained, provided more awareness on typical interactions of someone with autism that may be different than others.”
“When a police officer approaches a car, they don’t know what to expect. it’s great for them to have a little bit of information about who is behind the wheel,” said Levine-Kanji.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to just get a little bit more information, to understand what the operator or the passenger is dealing with during that time. This is a great initiative. We fully support it. I’m excited to hopefully get this bill into action,” said Patrick McNamara, President of the State Police Association of Massachusetts.
This bill has been reported favorably out of the joint committee on transportation. Next, it will have to be brought to the floor in both the House and Senate for a vote.