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This new program will help drivers with autism navigate getting pulled over

Arizona’s Motor Vehicle Division has teamed up with the state Department of Public Safety and University of Arizona to launch a new program will help drivers with autism navigate encounters with police when they’re pulled over.

The Arizona Department of Transportation will distribute  blue envelopes for drivers to hold their credentials, like registration and insurance.

It gives pointers to the driver of what they need and tips of what to do during an encounter.

MVD Director Eric Jorgensen said the blue envelope program is pretty simple.

You put your insurance and registration forms inside. On the outside, “it just has some basic instructions for the driver.” Things like having both hands on the wheel.

Inside, there’s also a set of reminders for the officer. For example, “flashing lights can be very stimulating for someone.”

Becoming overstimulated or dealing with a stressful situation looks different for everyone. Jorgensen said the envelope reminds officers not to assume certain behaviors are suspicious, but is not a ‘get out of jail free’ card.

“There might be certain things in their behavior that feel evasive, or like they’re concealing something, they're not looking you in the eye — but really, [it] isn't,” said Jorgensen. “It’s an aspect of being someone with autism.”

Sgt. Eric Andrews is with the state Department of Public Safety.

"There’s been several meetings with different autistic community groups and they have all been thrilled that we are rolling this out. Already it’s a success that they are just happy we are taking notice and making them a part of this," Andrews said. 

A training session is scheduled for this week in Tucson with volunteer drivers. Jorgensen said the goal is to offer more drivers and officers the opportunity to practice with the envelopes in a low-stress environment.

The envelopes are expected to be available through MVD offices and law enforcement locations statewide in May. 

Greg Hahne started as a news intern at KJZZ in 2020 and returned as a field correspondent in 2021. He learned his love for radio by joining Arizona State University's Blaze Radio, where he worked on the production team.