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What should I do if I'm stopped by police in Virginia?

These are tense times. It would be nice if that wasn't the case, but denying the reality isn't wise. Indeed, just being pulled over by the police for what may seem minor traffic violations can have a deadly outcome, as cases across the country in recent years have shown.

Many things contribute to making a stop a tense situation. From a historical perspective, many would argue that profiling by police, based on racial bias, has been a factor. In the past few years, the ease of taking and posting videos online has put police officers on edge. The potential for confrontation only seems to get worse and now the state of Virginia is moving to address the situation.

With the goal of improving safety for everyone on the road, the legislature recently passed, and the governor signed, a measure that adds training to the drivers' education curriculum that hasn't necessarily been highlighted in the past. As of sometime this summer, courses will start teaching student drivers what to expect and what to do when police pull them over.

Tips for now

Officials say the specifics of the curriculum aren't set just yet. They expect to roll them out by July 1. In the meantime, suggested best practices do exist. Perhaps by following these tips, we can get a jump on improving safety for everyone.

  • Pull over as soon as is safely possible. The first rule when lights and sirens appear behind you is to make way. If it becomes clear you are the target for a pullover, signal your intentions to the officer and come to a safe stop out of traffic.

  • Roll down your window. Turn off your engine. Rest your hands in clear view on the steering wheel. Above all, remain calm. Allow matters to unfold through conversation. Stay in the vehicle unless asked to get out by the officer. Only reach for something (license, registration) if it's asked for.

  • Remain polite and compliant. If you show rudeness or aggression, it could the situation. At the same time, you do have rights. Listen carefully and try to respond trying to avoid saying anything that might be used against you later.

Proponents of the new law say it should at least help us all be more mindful during police stops when they happen. We do not disagree.

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