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February 7, 2003

House passes speech, hearing impaired drivers bill

From: Danville Register and Bee, VA - 07 Feb 2003

By VICTOR REKLAITIS / Register & Bee staff writer
Feb 7, 2003

DANVILLE, Va. - A bill intended to help speech and hearing impaired drivers passed the Virginia House of Delegates last week, thanks in part to the diligence of a local mother.

Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, sponsored HB 2745 following a request by Danville resident Deanna Horsley, the mother of a local college student who is speech and hearing impaired.

Horsley contacted Marshall after her son had a misunderstanding with a police officer during a routine traffic stop in North Carolina last spring. James, an 18-year-old student at Danville Community College, was a passenger in a car that was stopped because another passenger was not wearing a seat belt.

"The police officer thought (James) was being smart with him and he wasn't," Deanna Horsley said.

The misunderstanding ended peacefully after another passenger explained James' impairment to the officer.

Horsley said if the other passenger had not been in the vehicle, the situation may have ended badly. She wants police officers and other drivers to be immediately aware of the potential communication difficulties.

"I'm just a mother doing the best I can to protect my son and anybody else who's involved," Horsley said.

Horsley wants to create a program that would put special stickers on the rear windows of vehicles, indicating the driver is speech or hearing impaired.

Marshall called his bill a "first step," saying it will give hearing or speech impaired drivers the option of having their disability indicated on their driver's licenses. The bill is co-sponsored by Dels. Robert Hurt, R-Chatham, and John O'Bannon, R-Henrico County.

Marshall said Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles officials were concerned that if they began printing the stickers and distributing them for a fee, they might not have many takers. The officials suggested the driver's license measure because it would cost little and allow them to gauge the public's interest in such features.

The Code of Virginia already gives drivers who are insulin-dependent diabetics the option of having their condition indicated on their licenses. Marshall's bill asks that five words be added to the provision. The words are: "or hearing or speech impaired."

Marshall was optimistic there would be more support in a year or two for legislation instituting the sticker program. He was also optimistic about the current bill passing the state Senate, where it is currently being considered.

"I do not think it will have any problem in the Senate," Marshall said. "It's only five words, (so) it's not going to be a big deal."

Deanna Horsley said she believes the sticker program would benefit police officers, and hopes law enforcement officials will support her idea.

Last July, the Maryland Sheriff's Association launched a similar program. The association distributes sun visor cards to hearing impaired motorists that read "Driver is deaf."

Contact Victor Reklaitis at or at (434) 793-2311, Ext. 3088.

© 2003 Media General