CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Portions of a Rhode Island state driver’s manual — including a section advising drivers not to assume that a traffic stop by police was based on their gender or race — are being eliminated following objections from activists, officials said this week.
Civil rights advocates had also objected to language in the manual advising drivers who have been pulled over by police to turn off their engines and “if in use, turn off your cell phone and radio” — saying it appears to discourage drivers from documenting police actions.
Individuals have the right to take video of encounters they may have with police, including when it might be in their best interest to do so, according to Steven Brown, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island.
Another section that the ACLU took objection to instructs drivers to “avoid any assumptions that the stop was based on gender, race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnic origin.” The section goes on to tell drivers to “wait for the officer’s explanation. All officers know that this type of traffic stop violates federal civil rights laws.”
Brown said the language assumes that all drivers have similar experiences when dealing with law enforcement.
“It just didn’t belong in a driver’s manual in the first place and certainly did not speak to the lived experience of many black and brown drivers who the data shows are disproportionately stopped by police,” Brown said.
Paul Grimaldi, a spokesperson for the Rhode Island Department of Revenue, which oversees the DMV, said Monday that the entire portion of the publication that includes the language questioned by the ACLU has been removed.
The 78-page manual is co-produced by Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles, the Community College of Rhode Island’s Driver Education Program, the Rhode Island State Police and the Rhode Island Department of Transportation.
It is intended to be used as a “guideline for the user to develop helpful procedures for safe and law abiding driving skills” according to the handbook’s creators. It includes information about basic driving skills, what different road signs mean and how to avoid distracted driving and road rage.
The ACLU helped spearhead the effort to have the sections removed from the handbook.
Brown said there were other questionable instructions included in the manual which have since been struck, including the recommendations that drivers “provide a straight, honest explanation” to police and “answer the officer’s questions to the best of your knowledge.”
The instruction ignores the fact that individuals have the right not to answer questions from police, he said.
Advocates also objected to other sections in the manual including recommendations for parents about how to talk to their children about interactions with police.
“Teach your children to respect and speak to law enforcement officers when they meet them in the community. Help them understand that police officers serve and protect everyone in the community. We must continue to pass on respect for professional law enforcement officers,” the manual suggested.
Advocates say the recommendation ignore the experiences of many Black, indigenous, and people of color have with police and can seen as skewed toward supporting law enforcement.
“Such language comes across as condescending and dismissive of the apprehension that such individuals may legitimately experience during these incidents,” Brown said in letter to the DMV in 2021, when the ACLU first raised questions about the language in the handbook.