Traffic stop bill gets support
Reps. Hanes, Conrad back measure on how to deal with law enforcement
BY CASH MICHAELS
FOR THE CHRONICLE
A bill that, if enacted, would require the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles to begin producing driver license handbooks that instruct motorists, especially young drivers, on how to properly and legally conduct themselves while engaging with law enforcement during traffic stops, has been proposed.
It is getting bi-partisan support in the state House by two members of the Forsyth County delegation.
The proposed measure is important, at least one law enforcement official says, because while police, sheriff’s deputies and state troopers are rigorously trained on how to act and react during traffic stops, much of the driving public, especially young people, don’t realize that the slightest provocative move could be mistakenly interpreted as a threat by that officer, and end fatally.
It’s one of the reasons many black parents say they have “the talk” with their driving age teenage children on how to follow the instructions of law enforcement when stopped on the road, the first rule being keep your hands plainly in sight, and don’t move unless the officer either instructs you to, or you advise the officer accordingly. If passed, “at the request of the Department of Public Instruction, the Division shall provide free copies of the handbook to that Department for use in the program of driver education offered at public high schools.”
While Section 1 of the bill, once signed into law, becomes effective January 1, 2018, the remaining sections become effective beginning with the 2017-2018 school year.
House Bill 21, also known as “Driver Instruction/Law Enforcement Stops,” is co-sponsored by Forsyth members Ed Hanes Jr. (D-Dist. 72) and Debra Conrad (R-Dist. 74), among others. It was filed Jan. 25, passed first reading on Jan. 30, and referred to the House Committee on Transportation that same day.
“With all the recent media stories about interactions between citizens and police, I agreed with the bill sponsors that basic guidance on how to react to traffic stops for speeding or for any reason deemed necessary by a law enforcement officer would be helpful to mitigate the escalation of the situation,” Rep. Conrad told The Chronicle. “It should enhance safety for all involved and be a reassurance to officers that citizens are better prepared to co-operate in providing information or following instructions during such encounters with law enforcement officers just trying to do their job.”
HB 21 needs to be passed in committee, and then heard and voted on by the full House and Senate process, before it can be sent to Gov. Roy Cooper for his signature to become law.
Among other requirements, the bill states, “ The driver education curriculum shall include …instruction on law enforcement procedures for traffic stops. This is developed in consultation with the State Highway Patrol, the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association, and the North Carolina Association of the Chiefs of Police. The instruction shall provide a description of the actions that a motorist should take during a traffic stop, including appropriate interactions with law enforcement officers.”
From the law enforcement point of view, the proposed law could be a needed asset toward helping the public understand the constant stress officers are under every time they make a traffic stop.
“I do think it’s a great idea to educate the public about what’s going through an officer’s mind,” Col. Glenn McNeill, new commander of the State Highway Patrol (SHP), told The Chronicle. Just prior to being appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper, McNeill was head of training for the SHP, has read the bill, and supports it.
Col. McNeill said when officers stop a motorist, “We don’t know whether they’re a law abiding citizen or not. We’re trained to treat every stop as if it’s our last.”
“When someone reaches for something, because they’re nervous as a result of being stopped, … we don’t know that that’s why they’re nervous. Are they nervous because they’ve just committed a crime?Our troopers are placed in harm’s way day after day regarding all of the dangerous traffic stops that they conduct, and we don’t know who we’re stopping. So any opportunity our troopers have to educate the public is a good thing regarding how they should interact,” McNeil said.
Health care professional Larnettra Richardson of Winston-Salem agrees that the instruction is needed.
“Yes, unfortunately I think it’s probably going to be necessary for everyone, especially people of color,” Richardson told The Chronicle. “It probably should include steps like slowing down, maybe even turning on flashers, remaining in the car, sitting upward with hands on steering wheel at “10 and 2” to keep hands in sight. Sad that it has come to this.”
However, Mutter D. Evans, community activist, consultant and former local broadcast owner, added this cautionary.
“Generally speaking, any attempt to educate is a plus; however, because these guidelines are included in the handbook does not mean they will be read, retained and regularly reviewed. In order for it to be productive, I feel it should be included in driver’s ed instruction classes and at least one question should reflect this on the written exam,” she said.