As soon as you see the police sirens illuminated behind you, your heart begins to race. The last five minutes of your driving flashes before your eyes, as you slow down and try to figure out why you’re being pulled over. Once stopped, you keep checking your rearview mirror, frantically waiting for the police officer to get out of his patrol vehicle and approach. At this point, you’re most likely thinking about whether you should reach for your registration or put your hands on the steering wheel. The nerves don’t go away once the police officer gets to your window; often, they increase as you begin to roll the window down.
This interaction will most likely happen between two strangers. You probably don’t know the police officer, and the police officer probably doesn’t know you. You’re just two people in a potentially high-stress situation hoping that this encounter ends in the best way possible. Everyone wants to get home safely. Here are the basics to increase the likelihood of that happening.
What to Do
If you have been pulled over, you can reduce the risk of things turning sour by doing the following:
- Pull over to a safe spot as soon as possible.
- Roll down the window and put your hands on the steering wheel, as you wait for the police officer to approach your vehicle.
- If the officer asks for your driver’s license and insurance and registration, provide the documentation to the officer. Make sure to tell them before you reach for it, such as “It’s in the glove box, is it okay if I get it?”
- If you don’t have all the requested information, politely and calmly let the officer know that.
- Police officers usually tell you the reason for the traffic stop. If they haven’t when they first approach the window, you can ask the officer what the reason for the traffic stop is.
What Not to Do
Make sure to keep the following in mind during a traffic stop:
- Do NOT make any sudden movements.
- Do NOT get out of your vehicle unless the police officer asks you to.
- You do NOT have to consent to a search of either yourself or your belongings, but the police officer may do so anyway. Do NOT resist. Instead, make a mental note that they violated this right so that you can bring it up in court.
What if the Police Officer Violates Your Rights?
If you think that the officer is being inappropriate, wrong about the reason for the traffic stop, or pulled you over because of racial profiling, then ask for their badge number and/or card. The side of the road in the middle of a traffic stop is NOT the proper time or place for addressing any of those issues. The right place to do so is in court during a hearing.
You can also file a complaint later with the police agency if you experience what you believe to be inappropriate behavior or discrimination by an officer. In some cases, it may be necessary to contact an attorney to hold an officer accountable for civil rights violations.
Other Resources to Check Out
Here are some other helpful resources on how to interact with the police during a traffic stop:
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