Teach traffic-stop skills

This editorial appeared in The Winston-Salem Journal

A North Carolina bill working its way through the state House is part of a recent national trend that requires driver's education to teach students what to do in a traffic stop, The Associated Press reported earlier this week. Nothing but good can come of this.

HB21 would require the driver's license handbook to include a description of "law enforcement procedures during traffic stops and the actions that a motorist should take during a traffic stop, including appropriate interactions with law enforcement officers."

"I think all of us want to do anything we can to make the public safer out there, and to not put our officers in a situation where they might make the wrong decision," Republican state Rep. John Faircloth, a primary sponsor of the bill and a former High Point police chief, told the AP.

He's right. It's unfortunate that some encounters between police officers and motorists have turned contentious and even deadly in recent times. Knowing what to expect might not resolve every situation, but it's a good place to start.

The best of these bills work both ways, also requiring police to undergo training to make sure they're holding up their end. Robert Dawkins, state organizer of the police accountability group SAFE Coalition NC, told the AP that the training could help young drivers control their emotions at traffic stops, but added that companion legislation is needed "so that police officers can understand to control their emotions" as well, the AP reported. That should be added to the House bill.

"Anything that keeps the rancor and stupidness from going on inside of a car when there is a minor traffic violation, we're all for," Allen Robinson, chief executive officer of the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association, told the AP. We agree. Young drivers should understand that being pulled over is not the worst thing that could happen, and might actually benefit them, especially if there's a safety issue at hand.

And officers should be aware — and most likely are — that kids aren't always going to act the way they should.

"The goal here is to reduce what could be a tense situation that can be very stressful on both sides," Dave Druker, with the Illinois Secretary of State's Office, told the AP. His message is to use "a common-sense approach" and don't be confrontational.

That's good advice for everyone involved.