ASHBURN, VA. (WUSA9) - A new law requires Virginia public school student drivers to take a class about what to do when they are pulled over by a police officer.
"I would say my biggest concern is a police officer pulling him over,” said Orlando Crouch, whose 15-year-old son Darius just started driving. “He grabs him or something, and you know, something escalates. Years ago it happened to me, you know, so it can happen!"
Orlando wants his son Darius to learn more than just the do's and don'ts behind the wheel while driving around Stafford County.
He is confident his son will obey the rules of the road, but both father and son share a fear of an unexpected police encounter that could turn deadly like incidents they’ve seen on the news or social media involving African-Americans.
"Young black people are just getting killed or injured for no reason," Darius said. "It's not fair and I feel like we should all know the correct way to solve this."
Virginia Delegate Jeion A. Ward (D-92) agrees that there needs to be a solution.
"You could see all the events taking place in the news, and how traffic stops turned into something more tragic. And, I knew that there had to be an answer," she said.
The answer came to her once her grandson got his learner's permit. She knew it was time to have "the talk" with him. The same one she gave to her three sons decades ago.
Ward created a bill that has been passed into law, requiring Virginia's public schools to teach teens taking driver's education how to deal with a police traffic stop.
"Knowledge is power," Ward said. She believes all young drivers should be empowered with this knowledge when they are stopped by a police officer.
But this lesson doesn’t start on the road, it begins in the classroom.
"Almost every driver gets pulled over by law enforcement at least once in their driving career," said Ann Vierkorn, one of teachers of the program.
She leads about 40 Briar Woods High School students through safe steps and procedures to follow during a traffic stop.
"One of the things I talk about and emphasize is that the police officer can only react to a situation. It's the actions of the driver that sets the stage for how things go during the traffic stop," Vierkorn said.
In the school’s parking lot, the students go through mock traffic stops with their teacher and Loudoun County Sheriff's Deputy Mike Cenate. The students are tested on what they’ve learned and how they react.
"Whether or not you feel the traffic stop was justified, you still need to think about your safety. Follow whatever the officer is telling you to do with the idea in mind that that's going to be the safest decision for yourself," said Vierkorn."Like keeping their hands in view, not moving around and staying calm and not getting out of the car.”
The students think the drill can be intense.
"Just having to talk to the officer is pretty nerve racking because you don't know how it's going to go or how you're going to react to the situation," said Sam Crittendon, one of the students.
Critics of this program believe that teaching young drivers to comply with law enforcement doesn't necessarily save lives, which is why retired police officer Eric Paul provides the students with safety steps to follow.
Lesli Foster: Do you worry about people who look like you, even if they take this course, that these traffic stops may not end the way you want them to?
Eric Paul: I worry about people in general because the fear of the police and the unknown and the mindset of people, anything can happen.
Paul tells future drivers to remember the two Cs, "A conversation versus a confrontation. Police stop you to talk, not to confront you.”
After Fii Essiam’s mock traffic stop, he believes this class makes him feel prepared to hit the road.
"I used to think that I should be a little wary, but now I know that as long as I do what I'm supposed to do I'll always be 100 percent safe," he said.
As for new driver Darius, his dad hopes the education in traffic stops will be an extra layer of protection when his son is driving alone.
"So, hopefully, it would teach them to relax, you know, hopefully abide by what the police officer is saying and try to get out of the situation," Crouch said.
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