“Do you know why I pulled you over?” This is one of the most nerve-wracking questions a driver can be asked. The way in which you respond to a police officer can affect whether or not you can leave with a warning or face legitimate jail time. To ensure you are in the former category, here are some tips and habits on how to handle a traffic stop successfully.
Traffic stops may be routine for police officers, but the scenario is as stressful for them as it is for you. Remember that traffic stops can become dicey very quickly, especially if illegal substances are involved or suspected. You do not know the police officer’s mood or personality, and vice versa, so being prepared and polite is essential in overcoming the traffic stop.
Do These After Getting Pulled Over
When You See the Sirens
Once you notice the dreaded flashing red and blue lights and hear the piercing police siren behind you, pull over to the nearest right-hand edge, shoulder, or curb of the roadway immediately. When pulling over, make sure you are far enough away from any intersections and as far from the main road as possible. If the car approaching is an authorized emergency vehicle, such as an ambulance, stop and stay in that position until the car has passed you. If the car approaching is a police vehicle, park and wait for the officer to approach you.
When The Officer Is Approaching
As the officer is walking towards your vehicle, make sure you do not leave your car for any reason, and your hands are visible at all times. “While an officer is approaching your vehicle, your hands should be on the steering wheel on a visible spot so the officer does not think you are trying to hide anything or reach for any type of weapon,” advises Virginia traffic lawyer Karin Riley Porter. Additionally, you should never exit your vehicle unless the officer asks you to.” If it is dark outside and it is safe to do so, turn on your interior vehicle light so that the officer can clearly see inside your cabin. Avoid any sudden and furtive movements, and identify where all your relevant documentation is located inside your vehicle, but do not reach for it until the officer asks.
When Being Interrogated
Once the officer arrives at your vehicle, be polite and roll down your window so they may speak. If the officer does not ask you why they pulled over, it is paramount that you ask why you were stopped. An officer most likely pulled over for a minor reason, whether it is speeding, a faulty tail light, or something else entirely. However, a routine traffic stop is really nothing more than an opportunity for the police to search you and find other reasons to cite and even arrest you. Law enforcement officers are trained to deceive you into agreeing to be questioned and searched, even if they have no legal authority to do so. Their interrogations are intended to get information from you that will assist them in establishing probable cause for an arrest.
It is important to remember that you do not have to answer any of the police officer’s questions outside of your full name, driver’s license, insurance, and registration. Remaining silent does not have to be impolite, and your silence cannot be held against you in court.
Keep your driver’s license, insurance card, and registration in safe and easily accessible locations. An excellent place to store your driving license and insurance card are right next to each other in your wallet. You can keep the registration in various locations; however, it is recommended that a signed, current copy be kept within the vehicle. Tell the officer you will be reaching for documents before you reach for them.
If You Get Ticketed
Accept any civil or criminal citations handed to you at the roadside, even if you disagree with them. Accepting the citation does not mean you are admitting guilt; you will have the right to challenge the citation and the officer’s version of events in court at a later date.
Following these guidelines will make a traffic stop less stressful for everyone involved and help the driver and officer avoid a potentially contentious and dangerous scenario.