EL PASO, Texas - Lawmakers in several states want to require driver's education courses to teach motorists about proper traffic-stop behavior.
A North Carolina bill would require instructors to describe "appropriate interactions with law enforcement officers." Illinois passed a similar law recently, and another awaits the Virginia governor's signature. Mississippi, New Jersey and Rhode Island also are considering them.
Lawmakers say deadly encounters between police officers and motorists are prompting them to require driver's education to teach students what to do in a traffic stop.
Many lawmakers want to make police interactions more transparent and improve community relations, in particular with people who feel unjustly targeted or mistreated because of their skin color.
Most don't pretend to legislate exactly how drivers should react, leaving the details to be worked out by state law enforcement or education and driver's license agencies. The 2017 "Rules of the Road" for Illinois , published in February, could provide a model, making detailed "suggestions" about proper driver behavior.
"The goal here is to reduce what could be a tense situation that can be very stressful on both sides," said Dave Druker, with the Illinois Secretary of State's Office, which oversees licensing 2.2 million new and veteran drivers annually.
The overall message? Use "a common-sense approach" and don't be confrontational, Druker said.
In Texas, traffic stop behavior is outlined in the Texas handbook that is taught during driver's education classes.
The state requires 32 hours of classroom instruction, 14 hours of driving and an additional 30 hours of driving with parents. Students also watch a video on distracted driving. Jaime Canalda, the instructor at Sun City Driving School, in light of traffic stops gone wrong, there's more of an emphasis on traffic-stop behavior.
"They hear stories at school, they hear stories in their community and half of those are not true," Canalda said.
Canalda tells ABC-7 he teaches students how to react if they're pulled over. If students are nervous, they can ask the police officer to call their parent. Nick Vega says he feels more comfortable driving knowing what his rights are.
"You're supposed to always stay calm, that's the best thing to do. And your rights are always the freedom to stay quiet and they're supposed to read you your Miranda Rights before they do anything," Nick Vega, a student at Coronado High School said.
Alex Gonzalez is a student at Cathedral High School says a lot of his questions about traffic stops and controversial arrests have been answered through the course.
"The second day of our class I asked him and I told him I was worried about all this stuff going on and he told me, see that's just something going on. People just need to know what measures to take, or what rules to follow so you won't get in trouble. And from there I felt more comfortable," Alex Gonzalez said.
Canalda says there will always be police officers who may be too aggressive, or drivers who act disorderly. He says in light of situations across the country, his focus is teaching his students to follow the law to prevent being pulled over in the first place.
"It's sad that somebody has to be killed, it's sad that a police officer has to be killed. I don't blame the police officers for following the proper protocol. If they go in there, it may be a bad situation. And maybe they got something on the radio. Maybe they're looking for a type of car. Maybe they saw somebody racing. Maybe what's going on with the police departments, they're being very aggressive. But the police department knows how to train their people, they know what to ask, they know the demeanor, they know when they stop someone what they're supposed to do. Unfortunately it's probably getting out of hand," Canalda said.
Canalda says his biggest advice to students is to follow the law, stay calm, be respectful and know their rights.
"I try to pass that on to my students. I try to educate them. I try to tell them, if you know the law, if you know what you're doing, if you know your responsibilities, you're okay," Canalda said.
The Texas Driving handbook can be found here.
The Illinois' 2017 "Rules of the Road" handbook published last month offers some do's and don'ts:
- Slow down and safely pull over to the right-hand shoulder or nearest safe location.
- Keep both hands clearly in sight on the steering wheel until the police officer instructs otherwise.
- Be prepared for an officer to approach your vehicle from either side.
- Do not exit your vehicle until asked to do so, since getting out may be viewed as aggressive behavior.
- When asked for your driver's license and proof of insurance, say where they are, then follow the officer's instructions.
- Don't debate with the officer about the reason for the stop or a ticket. There will be time in court to defend yourself.
- Don't be uncooperative, and don't resist if taken into custody.
- Expect the officer to treat you with dignity and respect. Report any inappropriate behavior to the officer's superiors.