By Duaa Eldeib
A new Illinois law aims to help drivers answer the timely question of what to do if stopped by police.
The measure comes amid heightened tension in Chicago and across the nation over how traffic stops can go terribly wrong -- and in the worst cases turn deadly.
Targeting the newest and youngest drivers, the law mandates that all driver's education classes include a section on what to do during a traffic stop.
State Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, was a co-sponsor of the bill that sailed through the Illinois legislature and was signed into law last month by Gov. Bruce Rauner. She said it is more about common sense than innovation.
"Being pulled over by an officer is really stressful," she said. "I think it's really important, especially in this time that we're in, that kids and new drivers learn what is expected when they are stopped by an officer, how to respond correctly, to be respectful, and hopefully that will make the encounter as least problematic as possible. I'm hoping it protects both the officer and the driver from things escalating."
The lesson may be familiar to some of the 109,000 students statewide who are currently enrolled in a driver's education program at a public high school, according to the Illinois secretary of state's office. A section titled "Being Pulled Over by Law Enforcement" is part of the Illinois Rules of the Road handbook, which is published by the office. Driver's education teachers in public schools are required to teach the Rules of the Road, though Morrison and others found that it wasn't always happening.
Jim Archambeau, a driver's education teacher in Chicago Public Schools, said he's taught the lesson in his classes for years, each time accompanied by a visit from a police officer. He said he hopes the law will bring uniformity to what he deems an important lesson for novice drivers.
"The police officers tell the students what they like to see: 'Hands on the wheel, window down, no sudden movements,' " he said. "When they ask for your license and registration, they like that you tell them where you're going to get it from: 'It's in my pocket. It's in my glove box. It's above my visor.' "
Archambeau, who serves as president-elect of the Illinois High School and College Driver Education Association, said a video that addresses the topic also would be helpful in the classroom.
The new law goes a step further by expanding the requirement to private driving schools, said Dave Druker, spokesman for the Secretary of State Jesse White's office, which regulates the private driving schools. More than 40,000 people are enrolled in private driver's education, Druker said.
White's office is tasked with updating the curriculum that tackles how drivers should act during a traffic stop. Those guidelines will then be worked into an updated Rules of the Road handbook, which will be published in 2017, when the law is due to go into effect, Druker said. The secretary of state's office will seek input from the Illinois State Police, he added.
"I think this can be a very positive thing," Druker said. "It's something Secretary White believes in very strongly."
Despite its timing, the law wasn't introduced in response to police shootings stemming from escalating traffic stops, said state Rep. Frances Ann Hurley, D-Chicago, who filed the bill in February.
"It was just to teach everybody the same thing," Hurley said. "It's an education bill. We want everybody to know what they're supposed to do when they get pulled over by police. If it helps somewhere down the line, that's wonderful."
David Shapiro, an attorney with the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University, said he was appalled that the new law doesn't include the rights of the new drivers, many of whom are minors. The responsibility is now on parents to educate themselves on those rights and talk to their children about them, he said.
"I think it's a frightening bill for anyone who has kids who drive a car because it doesn't say anything about the kids' constitutional rights during a traffic stop," Shapiro said. "Kids are the most vulnerable to getting pulled into the criminal justice system by overzealous police officers, and traffic stops are one of the main points of contact for pulling people in."
(c)2016 the Chicago Tribune