OH Gov. signs bill to bridge gap between police and drivers with communication disabilities

WALBRIDGE, Ohio (WTVG) - It was a moment more than a year in the making as the Hughes family joined Governor John Kasich as he signed a very important bill into law.

"[I'm] overwhelmed, excited, relieved," Jenny Hughes, said. "I'm definitely glad it made it through this fast."

The legislation was inspired by Hughes' kids and her instinct to protect them.

"I was afraid [after] hearing different things that have happened to other people. I was afraid something like that could happen to one of my kids," she said.

She has two sons. Both of them have autism. Her youngest son's case is more severe but her oldest is high functioning. In fact, he drives, works and talks - defying the odds - his mom says.

"That's why I made that first phone call, for his safety and for my young one's safety," she said.

Hughes went to Ohio leaders with a plan - what came to be known as House Bill 115.

"The idea was to give officers more information before they even approach the car," State Representative Theresa Gavarone said. "Give them a heads up that this may not be a typical interaction."

People living with autism, Parkinson's Disease, or PTSD can display behaviors similar to someone who might be impaired or hiding something, like fidgeting or poor eye contact. For police officers those can be red flags.

But now Gavarone says with a signed note from a doctor, those drivers can register with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. This way, when an officer runs their plates, they'll know more about the person behind the wheel, making the situation safer for both officers and drivers.

"Privacy is maintained. It doesn't say what that disability is, but it gives the officer a heads up," Gavarone said.

The service is not mandatory but will soon be available for people who wish to use it.

Hughes says the benefits make a huge difference in the lives of those living with disabilities.

"For him, [the bill] gives him his independence," she said.