Senate Passes Bill Improving Interactions Between Police, Persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Senate voted unanimously on Thursday to pass “An Act Facilitating Better Interactions Between Police Officers and Persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder” (S.2542), also known as the ‘Blue Envelope’ bill, filed by state Sen. Jo Comerford.

The bill creates a voluntary program to make available blue envelopes to people with autism spectrum disorder that hold the driver’s license, registration, and insurance cards, and which can be handed to a police officer in the event of a traffic stop. On the outside of the envelope are specific instructions for law-enforcement officers on the driver’s diagnosis, impairments, triggers, emergency contact information, as well as best practices for communicating.

“The Blue Envelope bill will make our Commonwealth a safer place for people who are neurodiverse,” Comerford said. “It moves us closer to equal opportunity and access for people of all abilities.”

Maura Sullivan, director of Government Affairs for the Arc of Massachusetts/Advocates for Autism of Massachusetts (AFAM), called the bill a priority for advocacy organizations. “This bill will ease interactions between police and autistic drivers. We know these situations can escalate and become traumatic or even dangerous. The Arc and AFAM applaud the Senate for taking action to be inclusive of the needs of the drivers with autism in Massachusetts.”

For drivers with autism spectrum disorder, being stopped by a police officer can be particularly challenging. At times, law-enforcement officers or other first responders have had little or no training about how to communicate appropriately with people with autism spectrum disorder. The bill facilitates understanding and better communication between them. In other states, like Connecticut, a similar voluntary program has been shown to reduce stress, facilitate better communication, and improve safety.

“Massachusetts police officers conduct thousands of traffic stops each year. While most of these interactions are relatively routine, officers do not know who they are interacting with before the traffic stop, so they proceed with caution. Each driver reacts differently when they are pulled over by the police,” said Tyrone Parham, UMass Amherst Chief of Police. “The introduction of the blue envelope under stressful interactions will provide immediate information and context to the officer as they begin to communicate. This will be instrumental to help bridge the communication gap for both motorists and police officers.”