States pursue rules to teach new motorists how to handle traffic stops

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Officials from Arizona to Rhode Island are taking up for consideration the increasingly popular topic of how to properly interact with police during a traffic stop.

The intent of actions pursued at statehouses around the country is to educate new motorists how to calmly approach a situation and to not panic, and also to help them avoid doing anything that may seem like a red flag to law enforcement.

In the wake of high-profile interactions between the public and police around the country, advocates say the pursuit at statehouses would be another tool to advise new drivers about what do during a traffic stop.

Critics question whether such instruction would be effective.

Changes are coming to Arizona’s driving exam. Spurred by the actions of one state lawmaker, the written portion of the exam will soon include questions on how to behave after being pulled over.

Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, said he decided to take action after hearing so many different responses about what to do when you’re stopped by police.

As a result of working with the governor, the Arizona Department of Transportation, and law enforcement, the exam will be revised to include suggestions for how to act. An information pamphlet will also be available.

Although the change to the driving exam did not require a new state law, another state lawmaker wants to include a series of questions about police interactions. The bill from Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, would mandate that an applicant pass a test regarding what a driver should do if stopped by law enforcement.

The Mississippi House voted unanimously to advance a bill to require driver’s education courses taught in schools to include a program developed by the state Department of Public Safety on “how to properly respond” to law enforcement when stopped.

The program would also include instruction on the constitutional rights that drivers have when encountering a police officer.

Illinois has adopted a similar rule that is expected to be in place this fall.

Across the state line in Missouri, one House bill addresses concerns about the issue. Driver’s education programs would be required to incorporate information about traffic stops into the curriculum. Driving examiners would also be responsible for providing information during the skills portion of the exam.

In North Carolina, a similar effort would require the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles to produce driver license handbooks that instruct aspiring motorists at public high schools on how to properly, and legally, conduct themselves during traffic stops.

Legislation in Kentucky and Rhode Island would require driver’s education courses to include lessons on what drivers should do if pulled over by a police officer.

Rhode Island Rep. Joseph McNamara, D-Warwick, said he believes the change would protect both the driver and officer by “avoiding a lot of problems.”

“Anytime you’re pulled over by a police officer, it can be very stressful, regardless of the reason,” McNamara said in prepared remarks. “Knowing the proper protocol of a traffic stop – including how to respond, act courteously, and provide the proper information – will serve to make the traffic stop less difficult.”

Multiple pieces of legislation in Texas call for adding instruction for prospective motorists while taking driver’s education classes.

Four bills in both chambers at the statehouse call for adding a requirement for instruction on how to handle being stopped by law enforcement.

The Texas bills would add a section to driver’s education courses for teachers to emphasize “appropriate interactions with law enforcement.”

Rep. Linda Koop, R-Dallas, said her bill is intended to cover information that most drivers should already know but many do not.

“This is a commonsense bill about education and safety,” Koop stated.

Her bill covers procedures in all driver’s education, including online and parent-taught courses.

Legislation in Nebraska would require the Department of Motor Vehicles to include certain traffic stop safety information in the state’s driver’s manual. Specifically, a list of 10 recommendations for how to interact with police would be included.

The Transportation and Telecommunications Committee is scheduled to discuss the bill on Feb. 28.

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