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Nevada lawmakers and advocates discuss a bill to make traffic stops safer for people with disabilities

Closeup of blue and red lights atop law enforcement vehicle
Aaron Anderer
Flickr Creative Commons

Nevada lawmakers have introduced a bill advocates and law enforcement say could make traffic stops safer for people with disabilities, such as autism. Democratic Assemblyman C.H. Miller sponsored the bill and presented it alongside the ACLU of Nevada during an Assembly Committee on Growth and Infrastructure on Thursday.

Assembly Bill 161 would allow drivers to indicate if they communicate differently on their driver’s licenses and/or registration. The scope is wide and could include people with autism, someone who is hard of hearing, or has a speech disability.

“By giving law enforcement an additional tool to alert them that someone’s response or actions during an encounter may be a matter of how they receive or deliver communications, rather than a threat or an act of defiance, this is again a common-sense measure that gives people the choice and creates a safer environment for all parties involved,” Miller said.

Mothers of kids with autism provided emotional testimony in support and spoke about how they worry for their children’s safety. According to Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, about 60% of respondents said they were fearful of police contact with a loved one with autism. Some attributed those fears to the potential for police to misunderstand their behavior. The bill is backed by law enforcement too. Sergeant Jason Walker spoke on behalf of the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office and the Nevada Sheriffs and Chiefs Association.

“Full support for this,” Walker said. “Any piece of information that we can get to help us bridge any communication gap is helpful for us.”

Concerns were brought up during the testimony, however. Although the designation would be voluntary, some felt people could be treated differently when presenting their ID elsewhere, like at a nightclub. The Deputy Administrator for the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), Sean Sever said it would be a big lift to make the changes to registration coding. Nevada state law already authorizes the DMV to note if someone has a medical condition on their ID. Advocates also asked for the legislation to require training for law enforcement on the new designation if it were to pass.

Lucia Starbuck is an award-winning political journalist and the host of KUNR’s monthly show Purple Politics Nevada. She is passionate about reporting during election season, attending community events, and talking to people about the issues that matter most to them.
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