Autistic driver

To enhance communication between police officers and drivers, a growing number of states have or are proposing measures that indicate a driver is on the autism spectrum. Now, at least three more states — New Jersey, Rhode Island and Nevada — are considering them as well.

The programs have some variations, but there’s a trend toward the use of blue envelopes, which are handed to police officers during a traffic stop. (It’s unclear where the idea started, if you know, share!) Each envelope, meant to hold items such as insurance cards and registration, has printed tips and instructions for police that include what to expect (repetitive motions, unusual eye contact) and for drivers, such as preparing themselves for a flashlight being shone in their eyes and a loud police radio.

Connecticut uses this program, and it’s the one New Jersey is now considering (the bill was submitted in January 2023). Blue envelopes are already in use in some New Jersey counties. (UPDATE: A report in August 2023 noted that Berkeley Township in New Jersey was joining the program.)

A few years back, a New York bill proposed the option of a distinctive marking being added to an autistic person’s driver’s license, but it appears to be languishing in the assembly’s Transportation Committee.

A bill in Rhode Island would combine the voluntary use of a blue envelope with a license decal provided by the Division of Motor Vehicles. The one in Nevada would require, under certain circumstances, the DMV to place a designation on a driver’s license for certain persons with autism.

UPDATE: CBS News Boston reported in August 2023 that a blue envelopes bill is passing through the Massachusetts legislature.

While the goal is better communication and to increase the safety of drivers, some worry the measures could increase discrimination and stigma.

A study from 2017 found that one in three adolescents with autism spectrum disorder acquired a driver’s license versus 83.5% for other adolescents and at a median of 9.2 months later. The vast majority (89.7%) of those with autism spectrum disorder who acquired a permit and were fully eligible to get licensed acquired a license within two years.


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