Instructing African American Drivers on How to Survive Police Traffic Stops

Committee of Jurisdiction: Law, Justice, and Ethics

Introduction

The risk of being pulled over by the police when “driving while black” is not a new phenomenon.  For African-American motorist, traffic stops represent potentially dangerous encounters with law enforcement that can lead to incarceration, physical harm, or even death. Traffic stops by police have been so troublesome for African-American communities that now Black parents across the nation give their driving age children similar instructions on how to avoid being harmed or killed by police during a routine traffic stop.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ latest study on police behavior during traffic stops, police conducted more than 25 million traffic stops across the United States in 2011, making it one of the most common ways for the public to interact with law enforcement. Unsurprisingly, traffic stops do not happen at the same rate or carry equal risks for all Americans; in 2015 the New York Times reported that in multiple states African-American drivers are more likely than other Americans to be stopped by police for a traffic infraction and a 2016 Center for Policing Equity study found that police were 3.6 times more likely to use force against Black people than White people during an interaction. A possible explanation for this disparity is that some police engage in racial profiling and use minor traffic infractions as a pretext for a more intrusive investigatory search, which increases the likelihood of use of force by the police. Consequently, many African-American drivers experience a reflexive uneasiness whenever they notice the flashing lights of a police cruiser.

The deaths of African-American motorist by police, like Philando Castile in Minnesota, was a tipping point for the African-American community, which compelled Black state legislators to introduce legislation that protects both drivers and law enforcement during these tense encounters. The National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) has also engaged on this issue and passed Resolution LJE-16-10, “NBCSL Supports Training that Fosters Positive Interaction between Drivers and Law Enforcement,” which expressed its support for legislation and initiatives geared toward fostering a mutual understanding of the rights and responsibilities of drivers and law enforcement personnel.



 

State Action

NBCSL members have taken steps in their states to ensure drivers and law enforcement officers are properly instructed on how to conduct themselves during a traffic stop.

NORTH CAROLINA

Senate Bill 453 (2017), Act to Require Driver Instruction on Law Enforcement Procedures during Traffic Stops
north carolina NBCSL Sponsor: Sen. Floyd McKissick 

Summary:  Requires the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to consult with the State Highway Patrol, the Sheriff's Association, and the Association of Chiefs of Police in including law enforcement traffic stop procedures and descriptions of appropriate driver interactions with law enforcement officers within its driver license handbook. It also requires the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to incorporate these topics into the driver education curriculum offered at public high schools. 

Goals: This bill provides instruction to drivers on how to conduct themselves during traffic stops that is safe for the driver and the law enforcement officer. 

Point(s) of Discussion: Civil rights groups assert that the North Carolina, Division of Motor Vehicles’ guidelines for traffic stops do not make it clear that drivers have a constitutional right to remain silent when pulled over by the police, but instead suggest that drivers are required to answer an officer’s questions.

TEXAS

Senate Bill 30 (2017), Relating to inclusion of instruction regarding interaction with peace officers in the required curriculum for certain public school students and in driver education courses and to civilian interaction training for peace officers.
texas NBCSL Sponsor: Sen. Royce West 

Summary:  Amends the Education Code and Occupations Code to require the State Board of Education (SBOE) and the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) to enter into a memorandum of understanding that establishes each agency's respective responsibilities in developing instruction on the  role of law enforcement and the duties and responsibilities of peace officers; a person ’s rights concerning interactions with peace officers; proper behavior for civilians and peace officers during interactions; laws regarding questioning and detention by peace officers, including any law requiring a person to present proof of identity to a peace officer, and the consequences for a person ’s or officer ’s failure to comply with those laws; and how and where to file a complaint against or a compliment on behalf of a peace officer. 

Goals: This bill will provide information to drivers, the public, and students, and also training for members of law enforcement, on the expectations that each should have during a contact between officers and motorists. 

Point(s) of Discussion: This legislation requires driver’s education and safety courses to create instruction so students can complete the curriculum required by the bill; some Texans are concerned that enforcing this curriculum in a public school may not be the appropriate setting.
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