Drivers who are hearing impaired can display a special placard, starting Tuesday in Frisco, to let police officers know they may have trouble understanding commands. It's a new approach to improving communication between the public and police – implemented by a 16-year-old.
Jack Musser, a junior at Reedy High School in Frisco, designed a special safety placard that tells officers if a driver is hearing impaired or deaf.
"I wanted to make an impact in the community and I thought this was the right thing to do," Musser said.
The project is personal to Musser, who hears with the help of cochlear implants. Musser lost his hearing after he came down with meningitis as a child. While learning to drive, Musser began to think about the challenges other hearing impaired drivers could face on the road.
He pitched his idea for the safety placard to Frisco police last year and has since met with officers during patrol briefings to explain how the placard would work and answered questions about driving while hearing impaired. Frisco police embraced the idea and have made the placards available to drivers at police headquarters.
"I just want to make it easier for the deaf driver to tell the officer about his or her situation," Musser said.
Musser noted hearing impaired drivers who read lips may have trouble understanding officer commands, especially during nighttime traffic stops.
"Officers come to their vehicle with a flashlight," Musser said. "They're unable to see your mouth and they don't know what you're saying and then they tend to get frustrated."
Texas drivers have the option of including a notice on their driver license or identification card that indicates the driver has a communication impediment. The notice appears on the back of the license and can be included with a written letter from a doctor.
Musser said the placards are different because they provide earlier notification to the officer.
In a safety video Musser shot and produced, he showed hearing impaired drivers how to safely display the placard as soon as an officer approaches.
"When an officer approaches a vehicle, say on a traffic stop, they may begin speaking before the driver can even see them," Frisco police Sgt. Evan Mattei said.
"If we can break down a barrier to any communication issue, that's an important job of ensuring the safety of not only the citizen, but officers as well," Mattei added.
Musser, a Boy Scout who is working on his Eagle Scout rank, hopes to partner with additional North Texas police departments.
"I hope this goes to the next level," he said.