On August 1, Ohio legislators took a huge step toward bridging the gap between law enforcement officers and drivers with diagnosed communication disabilities. House Bill 115, creating a voluntary enrollment program designed to bolster more effective communication during traffic stops between police officers and individuals with communication disabilities, officially became effective at the beginning of this month.
Under the new law, any person with a communication disability who drives or regularly is a passenger (or their parent or guardian if under age 18) may voluntarily submit a verification form designating them as having a communication disability. The form is filed with and processed through the person’s local BMV branch. This information is then made available only to state and local law enforcement officers through the Law Enforcement Automated Data System, more commonly known as LEADS.
The significance of this law should not be taken lightly. It is no secret that police officers’ jobs are not easy. After stopping a vehicle for even minor infractions, officers frequently face tense situations with drivers that can escalate quickly and turn dangerous. This is particularly true in cases of miscommunication. Recent efforts to develop law enforcement training programs to improve interactions with drivers having communication disabilities have taken off across the state and country. These situations require delicate handling for all involved.
Now, after making any traffic stop, House Bill 115 allows an officer to be immediately alerted through LEADS that the driver of a vehicle may have difficulty communicating. This notice can greatly reduce any potential misunderstandings or communication problems between officers and individuals with communication disabilities like autism, PTSD, or even a hearing impairment. Officers will then have a better understanding of the appropriate protocol to follow through with the stop.
House Bill 115 provides only the first step. Since the program is voluntary, spreading awareness is crucial. Individuals can self-identify through a form available online or at any Ohio BMV branch, but must have the disability validated by a licensed physician. Law enforcement trainings and workshops will continue to be scheduled throughout the state in a continuing effort to better serve and protect people with disabilities.