Georgia House panel OKs bill to teach drivers how to interact with police

Georgia's state Capitol (AJC file/Brant Sanderlin)
Georgia's state Capitol (AJC file/Brant Sanderlin)

A House panel approved legislation Wednesday that would require drivers to learn how best to interact with law enforcement.

State Sen. Randy Robertson, a Cataula Republican and a former police officer, said he filed the bill in response to traffic stops that end in violent interaction between drivers and law enforcement. Senate Bill 115 comes less than a year after Rayshard Brooks, a Black man, was killed by an Atlanta police officer who had questioned him for being asleep and intoxicated in his car.

SB 115 would require the Department of Driver Services to work with the Department of Public Safety to create a course that would teach “best practices of what a driver should do during a traffic stop.”

The curriculum would be part of the instruction given to new drivers and those who need to take driver improvement courses. Instruction would also include an explanation of consequences when someone is a habitual offender and convey that officers can choose to use force and detain drivers.

State Rep. Martin Momtahan, a Dallas Republican, said the curriculum includes basic information that every new Georgia driver should learn.

“This is part of a driver’s education curriculum program that already exists,” Momtahan said. “This is about making sure they know what to do when the car is pulled over and what the part of law enforcement is.”

Republican members of the House Motor Vehicles Committee rejected a proposal from Democratic state Rep. Kimberly Alexander of Hiram to include teaching drivers about their constitutional rights, such as their right to refuse an unreasonable search and seizure.

“I don’t think that is the intention of this bill ... to have a college course on constitutional rights,” Momtahan said. “This is just to give these kids that are taking driver’s education the basics. I would appreciate if we don’t politicize driver safety in this state.”

Chris Bruce, a lobbyist with the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, said he didn’t understand why lawmakers wouldn’t want Georgians to know their rights when being pulled over.

Last year, Brooks fell asleep while in a Wendy’s drive-thru and was questioned by police for 40 minutes before getting into a scuffle with officers, striking one and grabbing a Taser from the other. He was shot multiple times and killed by an Atlanta police officer. One officer has been charged with murder, and the other is charged with aggravated assault.

“When there are bills that are in place talking about training of individuals of how they should interact with police and yet when you see individuals being shot and killed by police or treated poorly by the police and there are no bills addressing that, that is a slap in the face of those communities, especially communities of color,” Bruce said.

Democrats in both chambers have introduced several bills to overhaul the way Georgians are policed, including requiring police to file reports on every traffic stop they conduct, to prohibit racial profiling and to train police on interacting with those who may have mental health issues related to post-traumatic stress disorder. None of those bills received a hearing in Republican-led committees.

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