The Defense Never Rests

An often tense moment for all involved: a police traffic stop

On Behalf of | Mar 16, 2017 | Criminal Law

Do we need a sort of standardized play book with recommended suggestions on how a motorist detained in a traffic stop — and, correspondingly, a police officer who has initiated that stop — should behave when interacting under that scenario?

There certainly seems to be a growing consensus that a how-to primer — especially for the nation’s youngest drivers — might be a useful tool for helping to dampen stop-related tensions that can arise owing to stress that often ratchets up for all participants during the moments that a driver is detained on the side of a road.

Says a lawmaker in one state where would-be legislation mandating education for high school students on best-practices protocol during stops is currently under consideration by the governor: “[Y]oung drivers [must] have the correct information so simple infractions will not become something more serious.”

That “something” is, sadly, an outcome that in worst cases has ended up receiving front-page attention in media outlets in Indiana and across the country in the wake of a number of fatalities that have occurred in recent memory in multiple states.

Many drivers — especially those who feel they are part of a demographic that is unfairly profiled by law enforcers– feel heightened stress when they see police lights flashing behind them. And police officers, too, are increasingly citing the fear that they experience when they approach the car of a driver they have detained.

Officials in a growing band of states are responding to those reciprocal concerns with model language and directed tips on how both motorists and police officers should act during a traffic stop.

One official cites the bottom-line goal of reducing “what could be a tense situation that can be very stressful on both sides.”

As yet, there is no boilerplate “how to proceed” list applicable to a traffic stop (and likely never can be), with common sense largely dictating the behavior of all parties.

And common sense in turn largely demands this: controlled — not quick or unexpected — body movements, and mutually respectful conduct and unconfrontational behavior displayed at all times during a stop.

Truly, a traffic stop is somewhat akin to a ritualized dance. When both sides know the proper moves, an adverse outcome is less likely to result.