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Defensive Driving May Not Reduce Traffic Stops in Arizona, Utah

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Governor Jan Brewer and legislators in Arizona decided that immigrations enforcement was not up to snuff at the federal level, so they passed a state law designed to improve the chances of illegal immigrants getting caught. But the laws also make it dangerous for people of darker skin color even if they practice defensive driving.

The core of the law that could affect out-of-state drivers is the portion that requires local, county and state police to stop motorists or vacationers if they have "reasonable suspicion," that the motorist or pedestrian is an immigrant without documentation. In addition, if a private citizen believes that law enforcement agents are not actively pursuing potential law breakers, they can sue them.

Graduates of online driver safety schools recognize that patrol officers are allowed to stop you if you've been driving erratically or speeding or acting as a danger to others on the road. The new legislation adds another wrinkle to what constitutes probable cause for a traffic stop, even if they cannot solely consider race or ethnicity in developing their rationale for a stop and/or arrest.

This is an issue for drivers who practice defensive driving not simply because they have to worry about racial profiling. The additional traffic stops that are possible from Arizonan police officers trying to follow the letter of the law could lead to more searches and close attention paid to aftermarket modifications and belongings inside the vehicle.

Many people are protesting the legislation, arguing that it will inevitably lead to racial profiling. Many tourists are deciding to avoid the state, and Mexico has issued a warning to its citizens about traveling in the Grand Canyon State. For drivers, it means being aware that you could face higher scrutiny while operating a vehicle in the state, at least until lawsuits coming from private citizens and even Attorney General Eric Holder are resolved.

But Arizona isn't the only state that has considered taking an additional step in strengthening the enforcement of immigration legislation. Republicans in Utah are also considering a similar law that would require immigrants to carry proof of identification (already a national requirement, although unenforced), and for patrol officers to again target people for whom they have reasonable suspicion of being in the Beehive State illegally.

Governor Gary Herbert "[understands] the interest in addressing illegal immigration and its impact on individual states, particularly in light of the federal government's inaction on the issue," his spokeswoman, Angie Welling, told the Salt Lake Tribune. "His commitment is that he will do so in a reasonable and collaborative manner."

Graduates of online traffic schools and other driving courses should be mindful of these new legal developments. As many analysts have noted, these laws are currently on the books in terms of providing legal documentation to prove immigration status, but the increase in enforcement means that many drivers who could fall under suspicion will need to take extra steps to avoid problems in the future.