CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — You’re driving fast on the highway and suddenly get pulled over. It’s a situation that usually frightens most of us, but for those with a disability, getting pulled over can be an even scarier situation.
Gov. Greg Abbott announced the Driving with Disabilities program on Thursday, a program that will train law enforcement through videos on how to communicate with people who have a disability like autism, PTSD, and cerebral palsy.
Alejandro Montes is the clinical supervisor for the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities in Corpus Christi.
The Driving with Disability program will help law enforcement understand the behavior of someone with a disability when they get pulled over.
He said the lights and sirens on a law enforcement officer’s car could instill more fear in the person with the disability than in someone who doesn’t have a disability.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re being non-compliant or not wanting to interact with the officer. It’s just being aware that that interaction might look completely different,” Montes said.
It’s important for law enforcement to know that some people with a disability might need more time to understand the situation they’re in.
“Them getting pulled over for the first time might be a very scary scenario for them and that could result in many different things like being anxious, not being able to respond to the officer,” he said.
However, approaching someone’s car when they get pulled over can also be a nerve-wracking experience for an officer.
Officials never know who they are pulling over, so Montes said it’s important for law enforcement to understand the situation before they misinterpret it.
“Keeping like a very simple usual stop from escalating to something else, where now this individual might be getting hurt or might be misunderstood, or avoiding an unnecessary arrest, or someone getting hurt,” he added.
Teaching someone with a disability to drive and prepare to get pulled over can also be beneficial to them if they ever get in that situation.
Rick Hinojosa was a special education teacher for about 25 years. He now owns Hinojosa driving school.
"As far as for driver’s ed, they’ve been some of my best drivers," Hinojosa said.
People with disabilities tend to memorize facts about driving quicker because they repeat them out loud.
He said the new program would change interactions between law enforcement and those with disabilities because it will teach law enforcement to be more patient.
“These kids might be frozen, literally, and not responding to the officer and police officers might get irate with that kind of behavior,” he added.