How to Handle a Traffic Stop: Common on Public Roadways

How to Handle a Traffic Stop: Common on Public Roadways

Traffic Stops are Common on Public Roadways

Traffic stops are common on public roadways worldwide. A driver usually gets stopped at one point or another in their lifetime. Most of the time, it’s for speeding or a minor traffic violation. Police officers are required to pull you over by law, but they have the leeway to issue a warning instead of a ticket. Obviously, if you were going 100 mph through a school zone – you are definitely getting a ticket, possibly arrested, and probably losing your license. But, for others, if you act reasonably and politely, you might just avoid a fine.

Keep Calm

Pull over safely and quickly, letting the officer know that you are complying with his commands. Under no circumstances should you try to “lose” the officer. That will land you in jail. If you question whether or not the car behind you is an actual officer, call 911. They can immediately ascertain whether the patrolman is legitimate. You can also request to see their badge and photo ID. If you still aren’t comfortable, you can request that they follow you to a police station.

Turn Off Your Car

After you pull over, turn off the engine. By turning off your car, you show that you are complying. It also decreases the likelihood of accidental injury.

 Turn On the Overhead Lamp

If it is dark out, you should turn on the interior light so that the police officer can see into your car. This not only ensures your safety but also keeps the officer at ease, as he will have some knowledge of what you are doing. It’s also a good idea to keep your hands where he can see them. Don’t let a misunderstanding result in tragedy.

 Roll Down Your Window

Don’t get out of the car! Instead, roll down the window. If for some reason your window doesn’t work, roll down the back one or crack your door and ask the officer for permission to exit  the vehicle. They will be on guard as you exit, but as long as they know ahead of time what you plan to do, things will go smoothly. If for any reason they tell you “no”, you need to follow their direction.

If you have tinted windows, especially at an illegal percentage, it is a recommended to roll down all of the car’s windows including front and rear sides. This will allow the officer to see into the vehicle which will make them feel more comfortable during the traffic stop. From personal experience, the traffic stop will go very smoothly if you oblige to this courtesy rather than attempting to hide the interior of the vehicle. At worst, the officer may write a ticket for window tint which may be as simple as a fine or it may be a requirement to remove the tint and present it at the police station. Always perform research or contact an attorney before fully obliging to the requirements.

Immediately Declare the Presence of Firearms

One of the first things you should do (with your hands in plain view) is declare the presence of any firearms in the car. If you have a valid concealed carry permit, this will not be a problem. If you do not have a concealed carry permit, all registered firearms must be locked away and out of the driver’s reach. An officer may look at the weapon, but as long as you have followed the law, there won’t be a problem.

A Typical Traffic Stop

Most traffic stops follow a predictable pattern. An example of a pattern is as follows:

  1. The officer decides to engage a traffic stop due to suspicion or a violation.
  2. The officer turns on his lights and waits for the driver to pull over.
  3. If the driver doesn’t, the officer beeps the siren.
  4. The driver pulls over in a parking lot, on a side street, or on the shoulder of the road.
  5. The driver sits and waits. (This is a good time to fish out the driver’s insurance card, license, and registration – which should be kept within an arm’s length distance of the driver – if not, wait until the officer approaches to ask permission to avoid suspicion)
  6. The driver rolls down the driver and passenger side windows.
  7. The officer walks up to the window and says something such as: “Good evening sir. Do you know why I pulled you over?”
  8. Before the driver even answers the officer’s question – the driver should declare the presence of any firearms, if any. The driver should say something such as: “I just want to let you know that I have a concealed carry permit and there is a firearm in the glove box.” The officer will handle the situation from there.
  9. If you don’t have any firearms, you say something nice back, “No, I was unaware that I committed any violations. If I did something wrong, I apologize.” (It’s probably not a good idea to say “I was speeding” in case they only pulled you over for an expired plate – wait and see.)
  10. The officer tells the driver the violation and asks for the insurance card, license, and registration.
  11. Then, the officer goes back to their squad car and runs the driver’s license through the database. If the driver has warrants out for their arrest, they’re looking at a ride to the police station. However, if the driver comes back without any violations, and they get lucky, the officer may only issue a warning.
  12. Regardless, when the officer comes back to the vehicle, the officer will either hand the driver a ticket or give a stern warning. The driver should thank the officer for the warning (the officer did the driver a favor) . If a ticket is served, it is best for the driver to be polite as arguing with the officer usually doesn’t work out in the driver’s favor.

What to Do If the Traffic Stop Goes Bad

Despite what the media might say, very few traffic stops go poorly. If for some reason the officer is acting odd or “out of line”, do the best to defuse the situation. Always be polite and comply. Do this even if you are completely innocent of any accusations. Remember, the patrol vehicles have dashcams and, nowadays, officers often wear body cameras. If you appear rational and calm, it will be very hard to misinterpret your actions. Deal with the incident later, in a court of law with an attorney – not during the traffic stop.

  • An officer cannot search your car without your permission unless they see or smell alcohol or drugs. If the officer has a search warrant, they may search the vehicle legally.
  • They can “pat you down” to search for illegal items or weapons.
  • You must agree to a field sobriety check if requested or take a trip to the station for a blood test.
  • Legally, you don’t have to answer questions, but if there is no reason not to, then be cooperative.

Police officers are only doing their job. Given the chance, most will happily let you off with simply a warning. If the infraction is bad enough to warrant a ticket, just accept that you made a mistake. It happens to everyone at some point. From there, perform research or consult an attorney to find the best possible solution.

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