STATE HOUSE — Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) has re-introduced legislation that would require driver’s education courses to include lessons on what drivers should do if pulled over by a law enforcement officer, with elements added to require education of drivers’ rights.
The bill (2018-H 7194) would also require driver’s instruction courses and tests to include instruction and information on the rights of drivers during a traffic stop.
“Anytime you’re pulled over by a police officer, it can be very stressful, regardless of the reason,” said Representative McNamara, chairman of the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare. “Knowing the proper protocol of a traffic stop, including how to respond, act courteously and provide the proper information, along with knowing your rights in those situations will serve to make the traffic stop less difficult. Law enforcement officers know what they want to see — window rolled down, hands on wheel, no sudden movements — new and young drivers would benefit by learning this as well.”
This is the second time McNamarra has submitted such legislation. In June, the RI House passed his original attempt, 2017-H 5055, which was then referred to the House Health, Education & Welfare Committee, where no further action was taken. Shortly after it was sent to the committee, the House abruptly recessed due to a budget impasse in the Senate, leaving it and several other bills in limbo.
According to the RIACLU, the legislation raised concerns for the organization and community advocates like the Human Rights Commission, RI for Community and Justice, and Jobs for Justice, who argued that in addition to learning about their responsibilities, drivers should be taught their rights during a traffic stop.
McNamarra has apparently added that element to the new legislation.
“In addition to knowing how to act during a traffic stop, we also want to empower drivers to know their rights,” said McNamara. “In some cases, law enforcement practices may have the unintended effect of promoting racially disparate stops and searches. The use of race or ethnicity in determining whether to pull someone over is not just improper, it’s illegal. It also severely damages the law enforcement system.”
The legislation would require driver’s education courses to include material pertaining to a driver’s rights pursuant to the Comprehensive Community-Police Relationship Act of 2015. In addition to a ban on racial profiling, that law also requires law enforcement officials to explain the reason for the stop, and prohibits searches of a vehicle unless there exists reasonable suspicion or probable cause of criminal activity.
The legislation, which is cosponsored by Representatives Grace Diaz (D-Dist. 11, Providence), Michael A. Morin (D-Dist. 49, Woonsocket), Evan Patrick Shanley (D-Dist. 24, Warwick) and James N. McLaughlin (D-Dist. 57, Cumberland, Central Falls), has been referred to the House Health, Education and Welfare Committee.