I was 18 years old the first time I got pulled over by a police officer. I had been driving for over two years at that point, but was a little scared and intimidated by the presence of the blue lights.
It was around 10 p.m.. I was taking my friend home from work when out of nowhere, we heard sirens and saw flashing lights behind us. “I’m going to get a ticket,” I thought to myself, even though I was pretty sure I had done nothing wrong.
The road was dimly lit and nearly empty. I pulled my car into the parking lot of a shopping center, sitting idle in one of the parking spots.
I put my hands on my wheel, making sure not to move too much. The police officer came to my window and asked for the license and registration. After reviewing them, he informed me that one of my lights was out, something I had known but forgotten.
I promptly apologized. Thankfully, he only gave me a warning, and was on his way.
My dad taught me how to drive. He’s the kind of person that takes 30 minutes to run a five minute errand to the grocery store because he drives so carefully. None of the accidents he’s been in have been his fault. For him, the speed limit is the speed limit, and any speed more than five miles per hour over or under is illegal.
His values became the basis of his teaching, and with that teaching came what to do when being pulled over by a police officer—remain calm, do as the officer says, be polite and don’t start a fight. The other information, such as what to do if you don’t feel safe when being pulled over, I learned from reading the Pennsylvania Driver’s Handbook.
How would this have been different had I taken a driver’s education course (driver’s ed)? Would I have known what to do? I don’t know, because I’ve never taken driver’s ed, and I probably never will. But what I do know is that teaching drivers what to do when they get pulled over is a must.
According to the 2011 publication by the U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration titled “Driver Education Practices In Selected States,” driver’s ed is required by 29 of the 50 states in America. While Pennsylvania is not one of these states, New Hampshire is.
A document titled “STATE-BY-STATE OVERVIEW: Driver Education requirements, Online DE authorization, Requirements Post-18” on leg.wa.gov states that in NH, “Teens under 18 must take a driver’s education course with 30 hours of classroom instruction. They must also complete 10 hours of driving with a certified driving instructor, and observe their peers driving for six hours.”
But what exactly is included in these courses, not just in NH, but in general? In August 2016, according to DNAinfo, Illinois passed a bill requiring that driver’s ed instructors teach students proper procedures for being pulled over.
However, there are no reports available on the success of the new law due to its initiation date (2017-18 school year).
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Special Report “Police Behavior during Traffic and Street Stops, 2011,” 26,433,330 of US residents were pulled over in 2011. Of those, only 9 percent were ages 16-17 or about 2,379,000 drivers. During the same year, crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov reports that 12.6 million individuals aged 15-20 were legally driving on the road.
Even though young drivers make up a small percentage of individuals who are pulled over, it’s still essential to teach them what to do if it were to happen.
There is a chance that at some point in a driver’s life, even if he or she is a safe driver, the individual will be pulled over. And when that happens, they must know what to do.
Alexandria Saurman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org