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|Sheriffs Help Hearing-Impaired Maryland Motorists|
|Written by Brandy Schaffels|
|Sunday, 01 March 2009 11:17|
Routine traffic stops are not so 'routine' for those in the deaf community. Nor is it run-of-the-mill for law enforcement officers who do not know they may be pulling over a hearing-impaired driver. Seemingly minor miscommunications between driver and officer can lead to serious misunderstandings.
In an effort to streamline communication between the deaf-driving community and statewide law enforcement, the Maryland Sheriffs' Association (MSA) has developed a Deaf Driver Visor card which instructs deaf and hard-of-hearing motorists on how to respond during a traffic stop. The dual-purpose visor card also helps to notify a car-side officer that the driver is hearing impaired. The card itself is so simple, and the idea is such a no-brainer, that it seems this is a program that should be implemented nationwide. I know several deaf parents who attend my child's elementary school in the Los Angeles area who would definitely benefit from having such a safety card in their own car!
This laminated visor card can be placed in the windshield of the deaf-driver's vehicle and states "DRIVER IS DEAF" in large, bright letters. Upon seeing the visor card, the Maryland officers can acknowledge that the driver is hearing impaired and will be better prepared to deal with the potential communication challenges of the situation.
Originally created with the assistance of a deaf advocate when the program was first introduced in 2002, the useful card shares important--and possibly even life-saving--tips for both the driver and an officer who might be approaching the vehicle. For the police officer, the safety card informs "Failure to cooperate with verbal commands means I am not hearing you" and "Night time stops using a flashlight in my face will prevent me from seeing any gestures." Useful advice for the driver includes safety warnings like "Keep your hands on the steering wheel until the officer gives you instructions," and "Do not attempt to move in any manner that would make the officer think you are looking for a weapon."
These are important tips, even if you are a hearing driver!
"The visor card helps to eliminate stress on both sides of the car door," says Sheriff R. Jay Fisher, President of the MSA. "If a driver misunderstands the verbal commands of the officer, there can be unfortunate consequences. With the visor card, MSA feels that both driver and law enforcement officer start off with a mutual understanding."
"The Deaf Driver Visor Program is an important tool to establish the groundwork for clear, effective communication during routine traffic stops for those who choose to use it," said Lisa Kornberg, Director of the Governor's Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. "It provides the opportunity for drivers with hearing loss to alert an officer that they may not be able to hear or understand their requests while maintaining the safety of both the driver and the officer." This year's expanded outreach program will distribute 20,000 visor cards to Maryland's deaf driving community.
If you, or someone you know in Maryland, needs a Deaf Driver Visor card, contact your local sheriff's office, the MSA at 410-269-4238, or visit mdsheriffs.org. If you don't live in Maryland, you may want to contact your own local law enforcement agency to encourage them to begin a similar program--or you could make something similar for your own car using the Maryland card as a guideline.
Ear photo thanks to omdur