SPRINGFIELD – Drivers with autism or other disabilities that impede effective communication will have better experiences during routine traffic stops, thanks to a measure sponsored by State Senator Julie Morrison (D-Lake Forest).

“A routine traffic stop sparks anxiety for anyone – now imagine you are a driver who has autism or another medical condition that makes processing social cues and responding to commands difficult,” Morrison said. “That can quickly lead to a stressful situation for both the driver and the police officer.”

Morrison’s law signed Friday will create the opportunity for drivers to disclose a medical condition or disability that could impede effective communication with a police officer.

“An important part of inclusive communities is overcoming barriers to communication, especially during potentially stressful interactions,” said Josh Evans, president/CEO of IARF, which represents disability service providers throughout Illinois. “This law is an important step toward inclusion for persons with disabilities and it is a reasonable accommodation to improve interactions with law enforcement to prevent the potential for an unnecessary or unintentional escalation.”

The space provided on an application for a vehicle registration will now include a checklist of common health conditions and disabilities that hinder effective communication as well as a blank space where an applicant may specify a condition not listed. The information will then be printed on the person’s vehicle registration and be put in the Law Enforcement Agencies Data System.

“If a police officer pulls someone over and that person isn’t making eye contact or engaging in conversation, the officer may think the driver is being defiant,” Morrison said. “The reality, however, is that not every person communicates in the manner. By designating a condition that impairs speech on one’s registration, a traffic stop would be a less stressful situation for all involved.”

The idea for the legislation came from Henry L., a Wheaton North High School student whose twin brother is on the autism spectrum.  

"I often worry about what would happen if lights and sirens lit up behind him. Would he move his arms rapidly as an officer approached the car? Would he avoid eye contact when asked for his license? How would a police officer react to his unexpected or perhaps even inadvertently non-compliant responses," Henry said. "Since autism is a hidden disability, how would an officer ever know that my brother is communicating the best that he can? In short, I am afraid that some of the very behaviors that help my brother cope with high-stress situations could be tragically misinterpreted." 

House Bill 4825 was signed into law Friday and takes effect July 1, 2023.