Staff Reporter (2021 – 2022)
As an aunt of twin nephews with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), I often think about what their lives will be like as adults. ASD and other disabilities, both mental and physical, can seriously impede a person’s ability to communicate. Consequently, people with communication impediments are at a disadvantage and risk of potentially harmful misunderstandings with police compared to those without such impediments.
Information and Background on the Communication Impediment Designation
To alleviate these concerns, Texas now allows residents to request a designation on their state driver’s license or identification card indicating the individual has a “health condition that may impede communication with a peace officer.”1 In Texas, law enforcement identifies several medical conditions which may result in communication challenges for the individual: autism spectrum disorder; Down syndrome; Parkinson’s disease; mutism; stuttering; post traumatic stress disorder; brain injury; cerebral palsy; deafness; and difficulty hearing.2
Similarly, when registering a vehicle in Texas, the application “must provide a space for the applicant to voluntarily indicate that the applicant has a health condition or disability that may impede effective communication with a peace officer.”3 As with driver’s licenses, the condition can be physical or mental.4 The goal of this requirement is to inform police conducting a traffic stop of whether the driver has difficulty communicating.5 Therefore, police officers are on notice that the driver likely will not communicate the same way as others. This helps prevent misunderstandings between citizens and police officers during interactions with one another. This optional designation on vehicle registrations was the result of the now-retired non-profit Aspergers101’s efforts and collaboration with the Texas Legislature to pass the Samuel Allen Law in 2019.6
Applying for a Driver’s License, Identification Card, or Vehicle Registration with a Communication Impediment
To apply for a Texas driver’s license or identification card with the communication impediment designation, first make an appointment with your local driver’s license office.7 You can find your local office here.8 Before going to the office, complete the general DL-14A application and DL-101, which is the physician’s statement indicating a condition or disability that impedes communication.9 On your appointment date, bring these completed forms and proper identification of the person obtaining the license to the office.10
For the vehicle registration designation of a communication impediment, you must complete Form VTR-216, available here, to add the designation to an existing motor vehicle registration.11 This designation can be removed by request of the registration holder.12
It is important to remember that both the license and vehicle registration designations require a written statement from the applicant’s doctor about the applicant’s medical condition.13
Texas law enforcement officers have access to a training program that provides information about conditions that can make communication difficult and how officers can more successfully interact with disabled individuals.14 These laws and opportunities for further education of law enforcement officials will hopefully alleviate concerns regarding disabled persons’ future interactions with the police.
1 Tex. Transp. Code §521.142(h).
2 Texas Driving with Disability, Office of the Texas Governor, https://gov.texas.gov/organization/disabilities/texas-driving-with-autism-initiative.
3 Tex. Transp. Code §502.061(a).
4 Id. §502.061(a)(1)(2).
5 Id. §502.061(c)(d).
6 Driving with Autism, Aspergers101 (2022), https://www.aspergers101.com/drivingwithautism/.
7 Communication Impediment with a Peace Officer, Texas Department of Public Safety (2021), https://www.dps.texas.gov/section/driver-license/communication-impediment-peace-officer
8 Search for a Driver License Office, Texas Department of Public Safety (2021), https://www.dps.texas.gov/rolodex/search.asp
10 Identification Requirements, Texas Department of Public Safety (2021), https://www.dps.texas.gov/section/driver-license/identification-requirements.
11 Motor Vehicle Registration Manual, Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (January 2022) 10-17, 10.12 Communication Impediment, https://www.txdmv.gov/sites/default/files/body-files/Motor_Vehicle_Registration_Manual_Book_298.pdf
13 Id. §§502.142(h); 502.061(a)(1)(2)
14 Texas Driving with Disability, Office of the Texas Governor, https://gov.texas.gov/organization/disabilities/texas-driving-with-autism-initiative.