RALEIGH, N.C. — Deadly encounters between police officers and motorists have lawmakers across the country thinking driver's education should require students to be taught what to do in a traffic stop.
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.
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.
Robert Dawkins, state organizer of the police accountability group SAFE Coalition NC, said it could help young drivers control their emotions at traffic stops. But he said North Carolina needs companion legislation "so that police officers can understand to control their emotions" as well, and be trained that racial profiling is unlawful.
Dawkins said that even drivers who have been taught to show "all kinds of respect" could be vulnerable if an officer sees their hands move from the steering wheel: "I make a quick movement, that that quick movement can result in me losing my life," he said.
Law enforcement officers worry about exactly the same situation: When motorists reach under their seats to get a driver's license, officers have to consider whether they're reaching for a gun, said Eddie Caldwell, executive director of the North Carolina Sheriffs Association, whose organization has strongly endorsed the North Carolina legislation.