“Just because an individual is on the autism spectrum does not make them incapable of navigating daily life, including being able to drive a vehicle. The situation that tends to arise though is a difficulty in communicating with law enforcement if the individual is pulled over for speeding or for another traffic infraction. This bill will help law enforcement recognize the situation, allowing them to do their job while also being respectful of the needs of the individual with autism,” said Representative Azzinaro (D-Dist. 37, Westerly).
“This legislation is about closing communication issues between drivers with autism spectrum disorder and others they may come in contact with on the roads, such as law enforcement. Inclusion is the main focal point of this bill as it will allow our family members, friends and neighbors with autism to freely live their lives without the fear of misunderstandings or tragic incidents that result from a failure to recognize individuals with autism spectrum disorder,” said Senator Gu (D-Dist. 38, Charlestown, Westerly, South Kingstown).
The legislation (2023- H 5503, 2023-S 0433) would require the administrator of the Division of Motor Vehicles, in consultation with the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association and an organization that advocates for persons with autism spectrum disorder, to design and make available for persons with autism the following items:
· A motor vehicle operator's license that is clearly marked “autism.”
· Decals that are clearly marked “autism” to be affixed to the vehicle in a conspicuous place.
· Blue envelopes that provide written information regarding ways to enhance communication between a police officer and a person with autism.
Individuals with autism spectrum disorder would be able to opt into the program if they so choose and the driving designation would not be mandatory for drivers with autism. The issue was brought to the attention of the legislators by a constituent in high school.
The legislators add that the Olean Center in Westerly, which specializes in services and support for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to achieve a desired level of integration, independence and productivity in society, are supportive of the bill, as is Chief Paul J. Gingerella of the Westerly Police Department.
Representative Azzinaro’s bill has been referred to the House Health and Human Services Committee and Senator Gu’s bill was referred to the Senate Special Legislation and Veterans’ Affairs Committee.