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Why drivers’ disabilities can affect perceptions of sobriety

On Behalf of | Mar 4, 2024 | DWI |

Dealing with a traffic stop can be a nerve-wracking experience for anyone. For people with disabilities, it can present unique challenges.

For example, police officers in Texas may be more likely to misinterpret some aspects of a disability as signs of intoxication.

Communication challenges

Communication difficulties can arise during a traffic stop. This can particularly be true for people with speech or hearing impairments. Officers may misinterpret slurred speech or difficulty in articulating responses as signs of intoxication rather than symptoms of a disability. This misunderstanding can escalate the situation.

Physical disabilities and field sobriety tests

Law enforcement often uses field sobriety tests to gauge a driver’s level of impairment. However, these tests can be tricky at best for people with certain physical disabilities. Mobility impairments, balance issues or motor control problems can hinder a person’s ability to perform these tests to the satisfaction of an officer. This can lead to assumptions of intoxication.

Misinterpretation of behavioral cues

Officers undergo training for behavioral cues that may indicate intoxication. They include lack of eye contact or fidgeting. However, some of these behaviors may relate to a person’s disability rather than intoxication. For instance, sensory sensitivities mean that some individuals avoid eye contact.

Sensory overload and stress responses

At least 12% of Texans have a disability. Traffic stops can be particularly distressing for them. For people with sensory processing disorders, bright lights, loud sirens and unfamiliar surroundings can trigger sensory overload and stress responses. Police might mistake these responses as signs of intoxication.

Having a disability can greatly affect how police see you. Increased awareness is important for fair treatment for individuals with disabilities during traffic stops.