What to Do and What Not to Do When Pulled Over

Each time you get behind the wheel of your car, you’re aware, either consciously or subconsciously, that there’s an authority out there on the road with you. The Boys in Blue are driving the same roads you are to ensure that everyone is driving in a safe and orderly manner.

Often, people may have a few misconceptions about the police. They may even think that:

  • All policemen want to do is to meet their “ticket quota.”
  • Every police officer is angry.
  • Police officers are out to get you and they are trigger happy.

The truth is that police officers have dedicated themselves to ensuring the public safety and most of them do not enjoy pulling someone over for a traffic stop. It is, however, part of their jobs and one of the most dangerous assignments they perform.

From 2003 to 2012, 62 police officers were killed in traffic stops. In 2012 alone, 4,450 officers were assaulted in some fashion during a traffic stop. When an officer asks you to do something during a traffic stop, it’s usually to ensure either their own safety or yours. Consider this: when an officer approaches your car and if they can’t see where your hands are or what you’re doing due to your car’s tinted windows, can they be confident that they won’t be added to the previous statistics?

It is important that you understand that traffic stops are a safety necessity and that there are things that you should do and things that you should NOT do if and when you are pulled over.

What to DO if you’re pulled over

Pull over to a safe area. The police officer will need to stop behind you and approach your car, so make sure you pull into an area that gives the officer enough room to move safely. Don’t count on traffic to move over, although they should. If you need to drive a little way forward before you are able to pull over, or if you need to cross multiple lanes of traffic to get to the shoulder, put on your hazard lights and slow down a little.

Stay in the car. One of the most threatening actions you can do is to get out of your car. If you exit your car, the officer will immediately get defensive and the situation can quite quickly escalate. Stay in your vehicle and wait for the officer to approach you unless they tell you otherwise.

Turn the engine off. The police officer will instruct you to shut it down if you haven’t done so already. If your engine is on as the officer approaches, he or she will be considering the possibility that you’re a flight risk. It is crucial that you shut the engine off before the officer approaches so that you can keep the situation low-key.

Stay visible. In order to keep the traffic stop as non-threatening as possible, ensure that you are as visible as possible. Open your window before the officer starts to come your way and turn on your car’s interior light so that they do not have to get anxious about what’s going on inside the car. Keep your hands on the steering wheel unless you’re requested to get something for the officer. Before you reach for your license and registration papers from your wallet, tell the officer that you are going to do so.

Remain calm. At worst, you may have a traffic citation and a fine coming your way unless there’s something illegal that you’re hiding. If you’re calm, there’s less likelihood of the officer having a reason to feel threatened and the traffic stop will go smoothly.

Follow the officer’s instructions. If you’re compliant with the officer’s instructions, the traffic stop will be smoother and will prevent the officer from getting irate. If you decide not to follow any instructions from the officer, expect that the situation will change drastically, and things may not be in your favor.

What NOT to do if you’re pulled over

Don’t argue with the officer. If you’ve been clocked at 75 miles an hour in a 65 zone, you’re not going to change the officer’s mind by refuting it in person. You’ll have the option to fight it in court if you choose, but arguing about it with the officer simply appears combative and will make the officer respond firmly.

Don’t panic. Traffic stops are routine. They are a regular part of an officer’s day and are an effort to keep you and the rest of the general public safe. It could be as simple as a burnt-out taillight bulb on your car or a failure to signal while turning. The traffic stop might make you a few minutes late for a meeting, but it’s nothing to lose your cool over.

Don’t admit wrongdoing. If you intend to try to fight your ticket in court, don’t admit what you did or did not do to the officer . Anything you say to the officer can be used in court against you so remember to limit your comments to the officer.

Don’t be rude. Rudeness is construed as being combative and shows the officer you don’t respect their authority. Don’t insult, berate, or make snide comments to the officer, especially if you’d like leniency from them. The situation will not turn in your favor if you are rude.

Don’t joke around. Like being rude, joking around during a traffic stop doesn’t show respect for the authority and the serious risk that the officer takes in making each traffic stop. Feel free to be friendly and lighthearted but try not to show a lack of respect for their role in public safety.

Remember, an officer’s role is to ensure the public’s safety, and that includes both your safety and their own. A police officer does not want to get into an argument or physical altercation, and they never want a traffic stop to escalate. Help them as much as you can by respecting what they do and making their job a little easier.


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