Campaign looks to limit stress of some traffic stops

July 18, 2002

Encountering a hearing-impaired driver during a routine traffic stop can be unnerving - both for the driver and the police officer, who quite likely isn't fluent in sign language.

The Maryland Sheriff's Association recognized this was a weak spot some time ago and has come up with a program designed hopefully to ease such situations should they arise, Washington County Sheriff Charles F. Mades said.

"We have launched a car visor campaign to educate hearing-impaired drivers on the procedures they should follow in response to a routine traffic stop," Mades said.


In addition to driver instructions, the visor card has two jumbo-letter notices - one says "Deaf" and is underlined and cradled in a drawing of an ear while the other says "Driver Is Deaf" in equally bold letters.

Ideally, a hearing-impaired driver who is pulled over would show the visor card to the officer. The card would tell the officer that the driver is not hearing the officer and doesn't read lips.

The card further explains that during a nighttime traffic stop, a flashlight shined in the face of a hearing-impaired person means they cannot see any instructional gestures the officer might be making, Mades said.

If pulled over, drivers immediately should take the card from the visor and place it in the car window so the officer clearly can see it, Mades said.

All drivers, including hearing-impaired drivers, are urged to keep their hands on the steering wheel and visible so the officer is assured there is no attempt to go for a weapon, the card says.

Over the years, Mades said, there have been some serious miscommunications between deaf or hearing-impaired drivers and law enforcement officers, placing both in potentially volatile situations.

"We hope this card will eliminate that stress between driver and officer," Mades said.

In nearby West Virginia, events following a June 2001 traffic stop of a hearing-impaired driver led to a lawsuit now pending in U.S. District Court against law enforcement personnel.

A North Carolina man traveling with his two sons was stopped for going 70 mph in a 55-mph zone on Interstate 81, according to court records. The lawsuit alleges that the defendants did not ensure adequate communication with that driver.

Kathy Gladhill, an interpreter with DeafNet Inc. in Washington County, said she has heard about the visor cards and plans to get one for her husband, who is deaf.

"I think it's a good idea," Gladhill said, recalling that once her husband, Dennis, was pulled over by a police officer for a routine traffic stop.

In that instance, the two wrote notes back and forth to communicate with each other, Gladhill said.

The laminated visor cards, free to hearing-impaired drivers, are available at the sheriff's office at 500 Western Maryland Parkway west of Hagerstown, Mades said.

"I currently have about 500 of the cards available," Mades said.

For information, call 301-791-3300.

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