The House transportation committee approved a bill Wednesday aimed at deflating the tension involved in interactions between law enforcement and drivers.
The bill’s sponsor, Charles Busby, R-Pascagoula, said House Bill 509 would add training on “how persons should properly respond when stopped by law enforcement” to Mississippi’s driver education courses.
“I think that anytime a young person get’s pulled over by a police man, it’s a stressful time for both the officer and the driver,” Busby said.
“It’s important we talk about what the proper thing to do if you pull over,” he said. “That way a kid knows what to do to relieve some of the tension. We’ve never taught them that.”
Busby listed a litany of potential issues that he thinks should be addressed in driver’s education courses regarding interactions with police:
• “We’ve never taught them that if you are pulled over at night, you should turn the light on so the officer can see what’s going on inside.”
• “Have your licence and registration ready. You know what they’re going to ask for.”
• “Have your hands on the wheel.”
• “Not to argue with (law enforcement officers). The side of the highway is no courtroom. Chances are if you try to argue, it’s not going to go anywhere. There is a place for that: the courts. Take your ticket. Say, ‘Yes, sir.’ “
National statistics show that most people’s interactions with police will occur during a traffic stop. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics an estimated 42 percent of all face-to-face contact between drivers and police during 2011 occurred at a traffic stop. That was the last year for which statistics were available.
The bureau’s Police-Public Contact Survey conducts interviews on police contact with U.S. residents that occurred in the previous 12 months. It found that a greater percentage of male drivers (12 percent) than female drivers (8 percent) were stopped by police in 2011. A higher percentage of black drivers (13 percent) than white (10 percent) and Hispanic (10 percent) drivers were stopped by police as well.
Nationwide about 3 percent of traffic stops led to a search of the driver, the vehicle, or both. A lower percentage of white drivers stopped by police in 2011 were searched (2 percent) than black (6 percent) or Hispanic (7 percent) drivers.
About 1 percent of drivers pulled over in traffic stops had physical force used against them by police. Of these drivers, just over half believed the police behaved properly during the stop.
By preparing driver’s education students for these interactions, Busby hopes both sides will be better prepared to defuse situations on the side of the road.
“Cooler, calmer minds are less likely to make mistakes. That’s what we want,” Busby said.
Rather than drafting into the legislation exactly what proper procedure would look like, Busby’s bill in the form that left committee leaves the pull-over curriculum up to the Mississippi Department of Public Safety.
“We’re very likely to get (the procedure) wrong,” Busby said. “Those guys do this everyday. I think they would be better able to develop the curriculum.”
Safety department officials were not available to comment Wednesday on their reaction to the bill.
Busby said HB 509 will next be considered by the House Education Committee.