Life lessons: what to do during a traffic stop

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

Every law-abiding citizen knows that feeling.

It’s the one you get when you hear the siren, glance into the rear view mirror and see the cop car with the flashing lights. It’s the heart pounding, stomach clenching sensation that threatens to overwhelm you when you realize you’re about to get pulled over.

Black and white photograph of New York Police Department barriers taken by Alexandra Bogdanovic
NYPD barriers. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

Perhaps you didn’t realize you were speeding. Maybe you didn’t mean to roll through the stop sign. You know you meant to signal before changing lanes. But by the time the officer’s about to stop you, it’s a moot point.

The only question is what to do next.

In Illinois,  a new law ensures that every new motorist knows exactly what to do. Under the law, driver’s education classes throughout the state will include a section on traffic stop “etiquette.”

State Senator Julie Morrison is the Illinois lawmaker who co-sponsored the bill inked by the governor in August.

“Being pulled over by an officer is really stressful,” Morrison told the Chicago Tribune.  “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.”

Personally I think this is a great idea. But I would take things one step further. In addition to teaching new drivers what to do during a traffic stop, I think it is even more important to teach them why it is important to do it. In this day and age, it is crucial to help civilians see things from the police officer’s perspective.

It sounds like a cliché, but it is true. For a police officer, there is no such thing as a routine traffic stop. The second the officer steps out of his or her cruiser, he or she is incredibly vulnerable. The risks of being shot, dragged under the car if the motorist decides to flee, or struck by a passing vehicle are real.

Just last month, a law enforcement officer in New Mexico was shot and killed during a traffic stop. Another officer was shot during a traffic stop in Indiana in July. The list goes on.

In another incident in upstate New York this summer, a police officer was reportedly  “pulled alongside the vehicle for almost 40 yards” after making a traffic stop. That’s almost half the length of a football field.

Luckily, the officer was not hurt. The motorist, who was stopped because he was allegedly driving without his headlights on after dark, was charged with with several misdemeanors and traffic violations.

FBI statistics released this May show that 41 law enforcement officers were “feloniously killed in the line of duty in 2015.” Of those, six officers were “conducting traffic pursuits/stops.”

As far as I am concerned, that’s six too many.

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