Traffic Stop Etiquette

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Helpful Tips From an Officer

So you’re driving down the road, listening to your favorite tunes, and you notice red and blue lights suddenly appear behind you. What do you do? First, don’t panic. While it’s understandable to be nervous, the officer may not be pulling you over; s/he might have received an important call for assistance and needs to get there in an expedited manner. 

Ideally, when yielding to an emergency vehicle, you’ll want to pull off to the right-hand side of the roadway. If it is unsafe to do so, pulling off to the left side of the roadway (i.e. medians or left-turn lanes) is acceptable but should be used as a last resort.  Pulling off to the left side of the roadway subjects not only the officer, but you, to traffic passing on both sides.  A good rule of thumb is to look for nearby parking lots or side streets, where traffic is traveling slower or is relatively nonexistent.

So you pull over into the safe area, but the officer didn’t pass. He stopped right behind you.

Well once you've come to a complete stop, please shift the vehicle into park. Officers will notice if the brake lights keep shining; the officer might think it more likely that you're going to do something foolish, like run.  Also, it’s a huge safety concern, as the risk of hitting another vehicle or the officer increases.

Don’t start reaching for items you think the officer may want to see. Sometimes officers ask for only your license and other times they will ask for license, registration, and insurance card. It is best to wait until the officer has approached your vehicle and wait on his/her instructions.

A good rule of thumb is to keep your hands on the steering wheel. Keeping them at “ten and two” isn’t just for driving. Lastly, if you are stopped at night, remember it is harder for us to make out certain movements in the vehicle until we approach the window. We are not being rude, when we shine our flashlights in your vehicles. We are just ensuring our safety.  REMEMBER, NEVER EXIT YOUR VEHICLE, UNLESS THE OFFICER INSTRUCTS YOU TO DO SO!!!

The officer should identify him/herself, state their agency and tell you the reason they have pulled you over. They will ask if you have your license and possibly registration/insurance card with you. Don't reach for it without asking first, or being asked to retrieve it by the officer; you could say "Yes, it is in my wallet. May I get it for you?" The idea here is no surprises! The officer needs to know where your hands are and what they are reaching for at all times. You would be surprised where people keep some of their documents. It isn’t just in a glove box or center console. Some places I personally have come across are backpacks in the back seat, under the driver’s seat, in the driver’s door or even in the visor. The inherent risk with all these areas, with possible exception to the sun visor, is they can all also hold weapons. Think of the officer, on his last traffic stop, the person retrieved their documents from the glove-box like most. On the officer’s next traffic stop, the following subject retrieves his items from under the driver’s seat. If for any reason your documents (most likely your license) are in the trunk, STAY IN THE VEHICLE, until the officer instructs you to exit.

After the officer takes your documents, they will go back to their patrol car. The officer will be looking at things such as license status and the driver’s history. STAY IN THE VEHICLE!!! Even if you found that illusive insurance card the officer asked for. Advise him/her that you found it upon their return to your vehicle, though you shouldn’t be rummaging around in your vehicle as mentioned earlier, unless instructed to do so.

Keep your hands visible even when the officer returns to his/her vehicle with your license and paperwork. He or she will come back and in most cases have either a warning (written or verbal) or a citation (ticket). 

If you get a ticket, the officer should explain to you the options you have for handling it (paying it, traffic school or scheduling a court date). Once everything is done, make sure you put your blinker on and merge back into traffic safely. 

Lastly, do not argue with the officer!  In most cases the computer systems automatically transmit the ticket to the courts when printed. Court is not held roadside, it is held in a courtroom.