How to Behave During a Traffic Stop

There has been a tremendous amount of exposure recently to reprehensible behavior on the part of certain policemen. We wholeheartedly denounce this behavior is unacceptable and demand that justice be done. We also believe that these instances are abberations to the professionalism displayed by virtually all law enforcement officials. We long for the day when the ones who committed these terrible acts can be punished and that a new era may dawn where relations between citizens and those charged with protecting them are brought to newer, loftier standards.

Amid the clamor for justice, we want to emphasize that law enforcement professionals play an important role in society and that their job is very difficult. They must make decisions based on observation that might be tainted by awful experiences that they have to face on a regular basis. Therefore, we have written this guide of best practices for citizens so that they might be able to give police officers clear, definitive signals that result in a trouble-free encounter. This, while upholding the rights that citizens have during such encounters.

It’s Not All For Nothing

Some people would argue that there are abusive police that will mistreat or even injure a citizen no matter what they do. Yes, it is possible to run into an abusive police officer, but this is by far the exception to the rule. You are more likely going to be pulled over by an officer who is making their quota and really doesn’t want any trouble. Your first best defense during a routine traffic stop is crystal clear, LIMITED communication with the officer. By clear, we mean that you are helping the officer observe what you want them to see so they don’t have to guess.

Lights, Camera, Action

Most of us become aware that we are being pulled over because we see police lights start to flash in our rear view mirror. Pull over at the nearest safe area you see. Don’t overthink this. Try to find a location as soon as possible. If the officer wants you to go someplace else, they’ll tell you. Understand that you are nervous so try and make all of your motions smooth and as relaxed as possible. You may mentally tell yourself to do everything 20% slower. Once you have stopped the vehicle, turn the vehicle off and put both hand on the steering wheel. Passengers should also make things easier by keeping their hands visible and avoiding any hurried, busy movements.

We have seen drivers advised to apply their emergency brake. This is probably overkill and the extra fiddling around the interior of the vehicle probably is more concerning to the officer than just turning the vehicle off.

Clear, Limited Communication

First thing you need to do is turn off any sound system that’s is going. If this is at night, turn on your dome light as long as the switch is somewhere that you don’t have to reach for. If your smoking, put it out.

Understand that the officer is trained to probe for information in order to reveal more troublesome, hidden activity. Thus, it is possible to talk yourself into trouble rather quickly. So, try these simple answers to common questions asked during traffic stops.

Q: Do you know why I pulled you over?
A: No sir/ma’am, I don’t.

Q: Do you know how fast you were going?
A: No sir/ma’am, I don’t.

Q: Did you know your tail light is out?
A: No sir/ma’am, I didn’t.

Get the idea? Do not admit anything that can be construed as an admission of guilt. Simply answering “No sir.” is sufficient. This is not to say that you should respond curtly or in a surly manner but just answer calmly and succinctly. This is a good rule of thumb for all communications with police officers. Just answer questions. Don’t offer any other conversation. It is easy to provoke unnecessary questioning unless you know exactly what you are doing and have been trained to observe routine police tactics.

Stay in the vehicle unless told otherwise by the police officer. You want the officer to feel they are in control of who is directing thing. Don’t start reaching for your license and registration unless you are asked to.

It is true that you have the right to refuse to answer questions and certain other requests like searching your vehicle. But be sure you know what you’re doing and no how to refuse without aggravating the officer. In general, comply to commands unless you feel they become unreasonable. Even then, an unethical officer may insist and refusing might make things escalate. Better to be exonerated later than sit in a cell for 48 hours while they decide whether or not they can charge you.

Because none of use know when we might be ordered to pull our car over, one way you can help protect yourself is by recording the event via video. If your state allows the use of dash cams, a properly installed dash cam could make a big difference if you need to appear in court and want to dispute any behavior you observed during the stop. Currently, both Canada and the US allow dash cams although there may be restrictions in some states.

However, despite our best efforts, some traffic stops do end up going bad and it is possible to be abused or arrested or both on bad charges. If this has happened to you, you need to call a lawyer that can represent you best. If you feel you were the victim of sexual misconduct, contact your state’s Attorney General as well. While this may not help you during the traffic stop, it can help you get your life back on track should things go wrong.