What to do during a police traffic stop

By Leroy Cleveland - September 12, 2022

This information might save your life…

Yes, there are driver protocols upon being pulled over by police and it’s critical to know your rights, their rights, and, most importantly, how not to escalate the situation.

How to reduce risk to yourself

  • After the officer has trailed you and flipped on their siren, stop the car in a safe place as quickly as possible. If you can’t immediately find somewhere to stop, slow down and turn on your parking flashers to convey to the officer that you’re aware you’re being stopped and intend to pull over within a reasonable distance. 

  • Following a complete stop, turn off the car, turn on the internal light, and open the window partway.

  • Place your hands on the wheel (so they know you’re not reaching for a weapon). If you’re in the passenger seat, put your hands on the dashboard. Keep in mind, the police officer doesn’t know who you are and is probably nervous, especially if you’re a male under 60.

    If you show your hands to the officer right away, it’ll probably put them at ease.

  • Avoid making sudden movements just as you would when meeting a tiger in the wilderness.

  • Upon request, show police your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance and, again, ALWAYS keep your hands where the officer can see them.

  • Be polite. Trust me… If you’re courteous to an officer you’ll not only help diffuse a tense situation, you’ll sometimes be given the benefit of the doubt (I’ve had cops kindly reduce my clocked speed by as much as 15 mph after being pulled over for driving too fast).

Don’t lose your cool

  • Don’t panic as most traffic stops are routine and boring. Keep a calm, clear head.

  • Police and civilians are not on even playing fields and the former will ALWAYS have the upper hand. And any defiance you exhibit will only anger the officer and possibly get you in deeper trouble. In fact, it could (unfortunately) get you killed. Don’t give them any reason to lock you up or fight, taser, or shoot you.

  • Most police will be professional and explain the infraction, issue you a ticket or warning and send you on your way. However, in the event he/she is rude or unprofessional, do not argue with or insult them. Remember, if the officer has already decided to ticket you, there’s about a 99.95 percent chance he/she isn’t changing their mind.

Your rights

  • Both drivers and passengers have the right to remain silent.

  • For legal reasons, don’t admit guilt or fault. If the officer asks why you were pulled over you may politely decline to answer that question or any similar question.

  • If you believe you were unfairly ticketed, get a lawyer afterward. A few hundred dollars to hire a lawyer for a traffic ticket may seem like a lot but it is often a wise investment.

  • If a cop is being threatening or unprofessional for no reason, write down everything you remember, including officers’ badges and patrol car numbers, which agency the officers were from, and any other details. Get witnesses’ contact details.

  • If you’re able to subtly grab your smartphone, you have the right to video record the officer. This works brilliantly. If a bad cop knows they are being videotaped they’re probably less likely to color outside the lines.

  • Do not consent to a search. A court may or may not subsequently rule that the police had probable cause for a search. If the officer proceeds with a search anyway, don’t interfere with them as state laws vary on when and how police can conduct traffic stop searches.

  • If you’re injured, seek medical attention immediately and take photographs of your injuries. Also, 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.

Police rights

  • In the event of a legal traffic stop, a cop can ask you for your driver’s license, proof of insurance, and registration documents. 

  • Depending on the state’s law, a cop can search your person or vehicle if there’s probable cause that another infraction, unrelated to the traffic stop, has been committed.

    Of course, “probable cause” can be a gray area. If they see a weapon, drugs, open booze, or anything suspicious inside your vehicle they’ll likely enforce probable cause and proceed with their search. You may record them but do not stand in their way.

Key Takeaways

  • Stop the car within a reasonable distance after it’s obvious you’re being pulled over.

  • Keep your hands visible and don’t make any sudden movements.

  • Never, ever lose your cool. Don’t argue, insult, or physically engage with a police officer. You won’t win!

  • Do not admit guilt.

  • Video record if you believe the cop is being unruly.

Below, please share your experiences when interacting with police during traffic stops.

Tags: police, tips