Texas law helps alert authorities to drivers with communication difficulties

Samuel Allen was 16 when he got his driver's license. His mother Jennifer Allen said she had her concerns but her biggest was Sam’s ability to communicate. 

"Probably one of the top concerns of any parent is when a child goes to drive they are terrified that when their child gets on the road there will be a challenge with communication with law enforcement,” Jennifer Allen said. “They are frightened and I will tell you that was one of my biggest fears when Sam was going to drive."

If communication can be a challenge for people like Sam with autism, the Allens thought: what about people who are deaf, have PTSD or Parkinson’s?

In an effort to help others, the Allens pushed for Senate Bill 976, also known as the Samuel Allen law, giving people with conditions that may affect their communication abilities a chance to have stress free interactions with law enforcement.

The law gives people the option to disclose their diagnoses when registering their vehicle through the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. A traffic stop can be stressful for any driver but the law helps defuse the situation. An officer can run the driver's license plate in their telecommunication system and see that the driver has a communication impediment, all while keeping the information between the officer and the driver.

“A lot of time you know you can have bumper stickers or symbols in the back of your license plates but for persons with a mental disability such as Sam or with autism well they don't want to be a target of public scrutiny," Allen said.

Samuel Allen was recognized at the Capitol for his work in the autism community. His law was part of his mother's Driving with Autism initiative, aiming to educate the public and law enforcement.

The Samuel Allen law has also garnered attention from other state legislators.

“Having something like this can be a very important safety net it can allow someone with any speech impediment to live a life closer to independence,” Samuel Allen said. “I have to say both my mom and I are amazed and honored that this whole thing has grown so big to the point that other states are wanting to adapt it."