TRENTON, N.J. – A new bill to eliminate a potentially dangerous misunderstanding between law enforcement and people with autism was advanced by the Assembly Transportation Committee Thursday.
Sponsored by Assemblywomen Serena DiMaso and Jean Stanfield, the bill would allow people living with autism or a communication disability to voluntarily add a marking to their driver’s license that would notify the police and first responders of their condition.
This would help the police, fire and EMS professionals out in the field be aware that the person they are dealing with is autistic, DiMaso explained.
“Ultimately we want to help first responders during these interactions,” said DiMaso (R-Monmouth), a volunteer of her local First Aid squad in Holmdel. “It’s critical for law enforcement to understand whether a driver’s actions or behavior are a result of a medical diagnosis they might struggle to express.”
“With this simple designation, we are ensuring the safety of our most vulnerable residents while protecting those who risk their lives daily in the line of duty,” continued DiMaso.
The bill (A3191) also provides training for law enforcement to better handle people with autism or communication disabilities.
“We cannot expect our officers to be experts in everything, but we can give them the tools needed to keep up the amazing job they are doing,” said Stanfield (R-Burlington), a former county sheriff.
“By doing this we can avoid future problems while creating a stronger bond between police and the communities they serve,” said Stanfield.
A 2017 study by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia estimated about one-third of adults on the autism spectrum disorder have driver’s licenses, based on a survey of data from New Jersey.
A communication disability is defined as someone who has a condition that impairs their ability to send, process and comprehend verbal and non-verbal communications.