The Traffic Stop: Interacting with Law Enforcement

So, how does one react to getting pulled over? You are likely to feel nervous, afraid, humiliated, or annoyed, but it is very important that you remain calm and respectful. The officer is likely feeling a bit nervous too. Being stopped can cause lots of anxiety, but knowing what to do, and what not to do, can lead to the best possible outcome. Below are some tips on interacting with law enforcement during a traffic stop from the American Association of Motor Vehicles.

Look for a safe place to pull over during a traffic stop

Pull over at the first safest location and wait for further instructions from the police officer. Place your vehicle in park and turn off the ignition. This is also a good time to roll your window down ¼ of the way, far enough to pass your documents and to communicate with the officer clearly. Turn on your interior dome light if the stop is at night. This will help to put the officer at ease and allow him or her to see what you are doing inside of your vehicle. Place your hands on the steering wheel, with your palms facing up, and wait for further instructions. Your hands should always be visible to the officer. Avoid making any sudden or suspicious movements.

Do not get out of your vehicle during a traffic stop unless instructed to do so by the officer

It may take several minutes for the officer to exit his or her vehicle and approach yours. Stay put until the officer provides additional instructions. 

Maintain a courteous and polite demeanor

You want your interaction with the officer to be as respectful as possible. Maintain a courteous and polite demeanor as the officer approaches your vehicle. At this point, the officer should inform you about the reason for pulling you over. You will be asked to provide your driver’s license, a copy of your registration, and a copy of your proof of insurance. It is a good idea to ask the officer for permission to access your documents. For example, if your registration and proof of insurance are in the glove compartment of your vehicle, inform the officer and ask if you can access your documents. Do not lie or give false documents to the officer. 

Friendly traffic stop

There is a chance that the officer may ask you to step out of the vehicle. You have the right to politely ask why. Once you comply with leaving your vehicle, roll the window up, lock the doors, and inform the officer that you do not consent to any searches of yourself or your property. There is still a chance that you and your vehicle will be searched, but making a timely objection before or during the search can help preserve your rights in any later legal proceeding.

Remember to stay calm and polite! 

As a reminder, you do have the right to remain silent. You must invoke that right by stating it out loud. If you are arrested or detained, say you wish to remain silent (and remain silent). Ask for a lawyer immediately. Don’t say anything, sign anything, or make any decisions without speaking to an attorney.

You also may ask if you are being detained or if you are free to go. In order for an officer to detain you, there must be probable cause that you have committed a crime or are about to do so. If the officer states that you are not being detained, you are free to go. Ask the question, “Am I free to go?” before simply driving off to avoid any misunderstandings. 

If you feel you are mistreated – don’t address it on the side of the road

There is a chance that you may encounter an officer who behaves badly. It is best to handle that type of situation with police department superiors after the encounter. The side of the road is not the appropriate place to attempt to sort out disagreements. There are instances where citizens have done everything requested of them and the situation still ended up badly. If you are arrested by the police, you have the right to a government-appointed lawyer if you cannot afford one.

If you believe your rights were violated, the ACLU suggests the following:

Write down everything you remember, including officers’ badges and patrol car numbers, which agency the officers were from, and any other details. Get contact information for witnesses.

If you’re injured, seek medical attention immediately and take photographs of your injuries. File a written complaint with the agency’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board. In most cases, you can file a complaint anonymously if you wish.

unhappy traffic stop

if you are pulled over for a traffic stop, remember to remain calm and respectful so hopefully you can get back on the road to you destination.

Read TBuzz’s article on Road Rage.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *