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Western Courier

Know your driving rights

Courtney Dalton

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Illinois has now become one of several states to pass a law affecting how driving education classes are taught. One bill has been proposed in North Carolina and another in Virginia is waiting for the governor’s signature to become state law. New Jersey, Rhode Island and Mississippi are also bringing this bill into question. New mandates are being added to the Illinois Rules of the Road handbook, to be published in 2017.

These proposed laws require driving educators in public schools and private driver’s licensing facilities to teach drivers what to do in the case of being pulled over. There was already a section in the Illinois “Rules of the Road” handbook called “Proper Action When Stopped by Law Enforcement,” according to the Chicago Tribune. However, while public schools were required to teach this chapter, private institutions were not. Under the proposed law, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White’s office must update the curriculum to add more information on how one should act during a traffic stop, and all driver’s-licensing facilities must teach the information.

There are many positives to this new law. It is important for drivers, especially new, young drivers, to know the proper actions to take when being pulled over. For example, one should slow down and pull to the side of the road wherever is closest and safe when an officer turns on his or her lights and sirens. Also, one should assume that their license, insurance and registration will be asked for, so it is beneficial to have these out and ready when the officer comes to the car window. It is important to always remain calm and respectful toward the officer.

While there are many positives to this proposed legislation, there is one important element lacking from the bill — and from driving education as a whole: an emphasis on what rights drivers do or do not have while in their own vehicle.

In the Chicago Tribune, David Shapiro was quoted saying, “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.” This is important to acknowledge. Many drivers do not know their constitutional rights during traffic stops or while in their vehicles. I did not know my rights, or lack thereof, until I took a Constitutional Law class my freshman year of college that focused on the Fourth Amendment.

These rights are vital to us because without them officers have no restraints. We risk being pulled into the criminal justice system by an officer who abuses their power by not knowing our own constitutional rights. For example, in Carroll v. U.S., the Supreme Court upheld that law enforcement officials could search cars without a warrant. According to the Justia U.S. Law blog, the Supreme Court “explained that the mobility of vehicles would allow them to be quickly moved from the jurisdiction if time were taken to obtain a warrant.” Next, in 1974 with the Cardwell v. Lewis decision, the Court argued drivers have “a lesser expectation of privacy in a motor vehicle because its function is transportation and it seldom serves as one’s residence or as the repository of personal effects.” That Court also included motor homes.

It is important for our citizens to be aware of their rights given by the Constitution. If our lawmakers went through all the trouble to draft a bill, why would they not put in information, or even another chapter, about our constitutional rights that we have during a traffic stop? It makes absolutely no sense to me. This is information that the public needs, but many do not have it. If we can pass laws that decrease stress for officers and drivers during traffic stops, we can certainly pass laws that educate the public on their rights in a vehicle.

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The independent student newspaper of Western Illinois University. Serving Macomb since 1905.
Know your driving rights