What to Do When a Police Officer Pulls You Over

Tips from a retired police chief

Flashing lights make most of us nervous, even if we have been driving strictly according to the letter of the law. At the same time, traffic stops are a police officer’s most dangerous regular duty since the officer does not know whether you have a weapon or are dangerous. Here are five things you can do to make the best of a routine traffic stop.

  1. Be prepared. Make sure that your insurance information and registration are up to date and easy to find in your glove compartment. Paperclip your registration and current insurance card together. Remove all other papers from your glove box so you can quickly grab this essential paperwork if you are pulled over.
  2. Stop promptly. Whenever you notice flashing lights behind you, you should pull over to let them pass or to pull up behind you. Do not look for the perfect place or parking spot. Pull over and wait.
  3. WAIT for the officer. Put your hands in plain sight, preferably on the steering wheel, and wait until the officer approaches your car and tells you what to do. If weather permits, open your window while waiting. Do not reach for paperwork, do not get out your wallet and do not go into the glove box or center panel. Sit still and wait for instructions.
  4. Be respectful. The police officer has no idea what to expect when approaching your car. While you cannot talk yourself out of a ticket, your words and behavior can certainly escalate into a ticket or an arrest. Ways to avoid talking yourself into a ticket include:
    • Be polite and follow instructions.
    • Do not be rude, disrespectful or argumentative.
    • Ask permission before doing anything. For example, if your license is in your wallet in your pocket, tell the police officer that your license is in your pocket and ask for permission to reach into your pocket to remove it. Use a similar approach before removing items from the glove compartment or elsewhere in your car.
    • If you are carrying a firearm or have one in your car, be sure to let the officer know right away that you have a permit to carry a firearm, that it is in your vehicle, where it is, and where your permit is. Ask for permission before getting your permit.
    • Wait until the officer asks for your side of the story. This may be as simple as “do you know why I pulled you over?”
    • Do not get out of the car unless asked to do so. Even if the officer takes a while in the patrol car, remain in your car until asked to get out.
  5. Do what you are told. The police officer’s job is to keep the scene safe to the best of his ability. The Supreme Court has granted police a lot of authority to do what is necessary to protect public safety. If the officer asks you to get out of your car, get out of the car. WAIT until asked to do something and then follow directions quickly and politely.
If you’ve been pulled over & need a lawyer, call
The Law office of Michael T. Brady, Esq.