Home Drivers with special needs have new tool during a traffic stop: A blue envelope

Drivers with special needs have new tool during a traffic stop: A blue envelope

Crystal Graham
traffic stop showing man with hands over face
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A new tool designed to assist special needs drivers and police officers during interactions has rolled out in the City of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.

The Blue Envelope Program should help those with autism spectrum disorder, communication challenges, dementia, anxiety and other conditions that might impair their ability to communicate during a traffic stop, car accident or other on-the-road interaction with a law enforcement officer.

“Traffic stops are a high-stress situation for most people. The operator of the car sees the blue lights come on behind them and they get worried about what they did, if they might get in trouble or if they might get a ticket. Some of our drivers feel this stress on a much higher level,” said Marsha Garst, Rockingham County Commonwealth’s Attorney. “The Blue Envelope Program helps to ensure a safe, positive interaction between police and those who might not respond in ways that an officer or other first responder might expect.”

When the officer approaches the vehicle during a traffic stop, the driver is instructed to inform the police officer that they have a Blue Envelope and then hand the officer the envelope. Inside the blue envelope, the driver is instructed to place a copy of their driver’s license, automobile registration and proof of auto insurance along with a form that includes information about the driver’s special needs and a contact person, if necessary, to assist with the interaction.

“Our police officers and sheriff’s deputies are here to protect and serve all our residents and those who travel through our jurisdictions, said Harrisonburg Chief of Police Kelley Warner. “The Blue Envelope Program is just one more way for us to ensure a safe encounter during a traffic stop.”

The Blue Envelope Program, which has been implemented in other parts of the country for autistic drivers, was suggested to Warner by the Harrisonburg Fire Chief.

The exterior of the blue envelope indicates whether the driver is verbal or non-verbal and instructs the driver to inform a police officer that they have a blue envelope when the officer approaches the vehicle.

Instructions for the driver include:

  • Keep your hands on the steering wheel unless otherwise directed;
  • The officer may shine a flashlight in your car;
  • When asked for your vehicle/driver documents, hand the officer the envelope.

Information printed on the envelope for police officers includes:

  • Driver may show signs of anxiety due to bright lights and noises;
  • Driver may have difficulty communicating and may not maintain eye contact;
  • Clearly tell the driver when the stop is over and that they can leave.

The special blue envelopes are available for free to all residents and may be picked up at your local police department in Rockingham County including: Bridgewater Police Department, Broadway Police Department, Dayton Police Department , Elkton Police Department, Grottoes Police Department, Harrisonburg Police Department, Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office and the Timberville Police Department.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.