There's nothing like listening to your son repeating to your grandchild exactly what you told him about driving, or launching your youngest daughter onto Virginia's highways to make a legislator or a governor wonder about whether new drivers know what they need to know to be safe.
And so when Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the nervous dad, came to Hampton High School to sign a bill written by protective grandmother Del. Jeion Ward, D-Hampton, and spotted a library full of high school students he couldn't resist: Don't drive so fast, put that cellphone away, stop moving to the music when you're driving. He even danced a bit for emphasis.
Oh, and to the point of Ward's legislation: Make sure you know what to do when the blue lights flash in your mirror and you're pulled over for a traffic stop.
"We want everybody to be safe, no question," McAuliffe said, before sitting down to sign the legislation Ward sponsored that will require drivers education courses to include instruction on traffic stops, detailing law enforcement procedures for traffic stops, appropriate actions to be taken by drivers during traffic stops, and appropriate interactions with law enforcement officers who initiate traffic stops.
Ward said she decided to go ahead with the legislation after listening to one of her sons telling his 17-year-old pretty much the same things she had told him about driving safely.
"I thought, 'That's my baby.' I want it right," she said.
She's heard the advice that lots of people offer about traffic stops, some of it conflicting. And while the issue of traffic stops and the way they're handled has sparked controversy, as a former middle school teacher, Ward thought it made sense to look at what new drivers are actually taught.
So to make sure they know what to do in what's likely the most stressful moment they'll face on the road — and in what Hampton Police Chief Terry Sult says is one of the most stressful situations his officers face — her bill requires the state Board of Education to collaborate with the Department of State Police in implementing the changes to its drivers education program.
Sult thinks it's a great step to make the roads safer and to reassure people — from agitated teenage drivers to police officers whose adrenaline is up because they never know what they'll confront when they approach a car — that a potentially difficult situation is under control.
His advice, by the way, is simple: be cooperative, stay calm and follow instructions. If you feel a stop wasn't handled properly, the thing to do is to let the police department know afterward rather than make an issue of it at the time. Sult said he and his top staff will look into any complaint and go over it with a student, parents and the officer involved to make sure a stop was handled correctly — and, if it wasn't, to take the necessary steps to fix matters.
Ward's bill passed on an 82-12 vote in the House of Delegates and 40-0 in the state Senate.
McAuliffe said signing it into law was one of the easiest decisions he's made as governor.