AUSTIN (KXAN) – A bill filed by Texas House Rep. Armando Martinez, D- Weslaco, would update the transportation code to allow a Texan to indicate on their driver’s registration that they may be transporting a person with disabilities.
Already, drivers with communication difficulties – those with conditions like autism or being hard of hearing – can disclose this through the Texas Law Enforcement Telecommunication System (TLETS), so an officer is aware of challenges before approaching the vehicle at a traffic stop. The same opportunity is not currently available for a person who might transport a person with a disability.
“This is something that affects a lot of people,” Martinez told KXAN. “[it’s important] to be able to identify people with special needs that are in vehicles so that when a police officer does a traffic stop, they’re aware that there may be an individual who is nonverbal, or has a disability, in the vehicle so that we don’t create or escalate any type of further issue,” he said.
Officers have to be extra cautious when approaching vehicles they have pulled over, Martinez explained. An officer may assume the worst if a person they have pulled over is communicating in a way they do not understand. And a bad interaction can lead to a negative outcome for both parties.
“What we want to do is, allow [officers] to understand that an individual with special needs is in a vehicle so that when they make contact, it’s not an issue of, ‘Oh, he’s not answering my questions,’ or ‘He’s hiding something,’ or ‘There may be some type of suspicious activity going on,’” Martinez said. “This protects both the special needs community and the officer at the same time.”
Martinez said a focus of his work as a legislator is making the lives of special needs Texans easier.
“The special needs community are human beings, and we should treat them as such,” he said. “I think that by passing legislation like this… It makes the community much safer for our special needs [neighbors]. It makes [life] more enjoyable.”