What to do during a traffic stop? Why some oppose NJ bill teaching how to act
Above: A woman is arrested after refusing to speak to police in Warren County. Under Supreme Court precedent, those interacting with police are not required to speak — under the right to remain silent.
TRENTON — A bill that would add a section to the New Jersey driver's manual on what to do during a police stop is being met with some opposition.
State Sen. Jeff Van Drew of Cape May County has sponsored the legislation, S2501. These responsibilities as outlined in the bill include pulling over to the far right. turning the engine and the radio off, avoiding sudden movements and keeping hands in plain sight.
A question would be included on the driver's test.
"I don't know that there's anywhere in the motor vehicle handbook that adequately addresses it. There may be some area that tangentially addresses it," Van Drew said. This bill would spell out 'common sense' things a driver should when they are stopped.
"Just as we teach people how to make a left turn and a right turn and how to drive down the highway, we will also teach them how to appropriately and properly handle a motor vehicle stop."
He said it's a "common-sense issue that should be covered most especially with all that's occurring in today's times," Van Drew said.
But the ACLU of New Jersey told New Jersey 101.5 the bill focuses on the wrong area — that New Jersey should instead focus on teaching drivers their rights.
"The driving curriculum already includes the legal responsibilities drivers owe to the police and others who share the road. Anything beyond that should not be part of a test to decide who is allowed to drive," ACLU-NJ Public Policy Director Ari Rosmarin wrote in a statement.
"In recent months and years, police stops that should have been routine have ended with police officers killing Americans, especially Black Americans. The legislature should prioritize teaching all drivers and passengers their rights when stopped by police, and to train all officers how to de-escalate tense encounters and respect New Jerseyans’ rights," write Rosmarin.
The ACLU-NJ earlier this year produced a guide for how to handle being stopped by police, on foot or in a car. It advises residents to remain calm, to keep their hands to themselves, and not to resist even if innocent.
But it also stresses that residents have rights during a stop: For instance, that they can refuse warrantless searches of a house or car, that they're not required to speak. The fact sheet notes that police can order a driver out of a car, but not a passenger without a specific safety concern.
It notes those who are not being arrested are legally allowed to photograph or film police activity, so long as they don't interfere, as well.
"Sometimes police stop, frisk, or arrest people in violation of their rights. If this happens to you, write down everything ASAP, including badge and patrol car numbers. If injured, seek immediate medical attention and take photos," the ACLU-NJ writes.
Pat Colligan, the president of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, said earlier that when ordered to pull over, a driver must — it's not an option. He said a driver should comply with an officer's legal orders. He also suggested that if you are stopped at night to, put on the dome light.
“If a police officer turns on the flashing red lights behind you, it means he or she has probable cause to pull you over for some reason, so technically you’re detained at that point and really aren’t free to go," Colligan said. "So to get into an argument when you’re initially pulled over, it really isn’t going to help your cause at all."
Prior reporting by David Matthau was used in this report.
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