Believe it or not, there are things you can do to improve the outcome of your next traffic stop. Put yourself in the place of the police officer who is pulling you over. The officer has no idea who you are, and the officer is ready for any number of common and uncommon possibilities. Are you drunk? Is the car stolen? Did you just kill someone? You will be well served by playing it cool and cooperative, being polite, and not saying more than required.
- When you first see the flashing red and blue lights behind you, slow down, put on your right turn signal, and find a spot to pull over where the officer can safely conduct the stop.
- When you have stopped, turn on your hazard lights, turn off the radio and ignition, and consider turning on your overhead light if it is dark; stay in your vehicle with your seatbelt on.
- Roll down your window, at least a few inches, and keep your hands visible on the steering wheel. Do not reach for anything until the officer asks for it. The approaching officer does not know if you are reaching for your insurance card or a gun.
- When the officer engages you, always be polite. You do not know what ridiculousness the officer may have dealt with already that day.
- If there is any risk that you could be charged with anything serious, invoke your right to remain silent, and stop talking.
- Do not argue with the officer. Be straight forward and succinct when speaking to the officer. This is not a social outing. Don’t volunteer any information, and, if you know you were caught, dead-to-rights, for a minor traffic violation, answer the questions that are asked, honestly – the officer has heard it all before.
- Only if you are certain that speeding is all they could legally hold you to account for, when asked “Do you know why I pulled you over?,” you might answer “I was going too fast” if you were speeding. In most circumstances, it is safe to politely respond, “I cannot think of a reason officer, could you explain?”
- When the officer asks for your license, registration, and proof of insurance, tell them what you are going to do next. In other words, if your registration and proof of insurance are in the glove box, tell the officer you are going to reach into the glove box for those items. Other than providing these items, you are under no obligation to answer any other questions, nor must you submit to any roadside field sobriety tests, nor do you have to consent to a search. If ordered to step you, you must comply.
- If you receive a citation, take it politely and conclude the traffic stop. This goes back to #5 above: do not argue. Arguing, complaining or being rude will not improve your outcome, and may lead to additional citations.
- After the traffic stop is over and it is time for you to drive off, do so calmly. Squealing your tires and kicking up gravel onto the hood of the officer’s car will result in a second traffic stop.
The above suggestions cover a routine traffic stop. In the future, we will cover suggestions on how to deal with carrying weapons in your car, requests for searches, and other less common situations.