Stopped By the Police? Here's What You Need to Do

What to Do When You Are Stopped By the Police

Being stopped by the police when you least expect it, even if you have done nothing wrong can produce a lot of anxiety and worry. No one likes being questioned or detained, but if you follow these guidelines, things will go much smoother. How you act, what you say and do can seriously affect any further legal action so be careful, stay calm and follow these guidelines.

When You Realize You Are Being Pulled Over

The first thing to do is relax, take a couple of deep breaths. Even if you do end up with a traffic ticket or violation, everything will be ok. Law enforcement agents are not evil or mean; it is their job to protect all of us. If you see them as just ordinary men and women doing their job, it will be easier to relate and stay calm.

Next, find a safe place to pull over. It is a good idea to put your flasher lights on to signal to the officer that you are aware you need to pull over and are doing so at the next available, safe stop.

After You Stop

The first thing to do after being pulled over is to turn off your car and roll down your window. If it is dark outside, turn on interior lights of the vehicle. You want to make all your movements slowly. The officer is watching you making sure you are not a threat to his or her safety.

  • Do not get out of the car, stay in your seat and keep your seatbelt on for the duration.
  • Keep your hands on the wheel and keep calm, don't fidget.
  • Do not pull out your license and registration until the officer asks you to do so. With so many policemen and women killed each year, they are on high alert about any sudden movements or a suspect appearing to grab something. When you do move, reach for the glove box deliberately without any sudden or jerky movements.
  • After you have handed over your documents, be sure to return your hands to the steering wheel. Keep them there during your entire interaction with the officer.

Speaking to the Officer

Always be polite and respectful to the officer. Do not start babbling or talk excessively. Answer their questions as minimally as possible, and it's always a good idea to apologize if you are guilty of a driving infraction. Let the police officer do most of the talking and respond politely but do not initiate conversation.

  • If you are legally carrying a weapon, disclose that to them immediately.
  • Don't argue with the officer, if you want to fight the ticket later, you can but in a courtroom.
  • Never get out of the vehicle unless the officer asks you to do so.
  • If the officer asks you "do you know why I stopped you?" Answer no. If they ask how fast you were going, give them an estimate if you do not know. You do not want it to appear that you were driving while distracted.
  • Follow all directions asked of you by the officer. If the police officer asks you to vacate the vehicle, you should do so compliantly. If they want to give you a breathalyzer test, you have the right to refuse, but it is better to do it if you feel it will not get you into more trouble.

Know Your Rights

Police Traffic Stop

  • If you feel that you are being pulled over because of age, race or the type of car you are driving, know that you have rights. Simply turn the record button on your phone and leave it on the dashboard.
  • In most cases, the officer is not allowed to search your vehicle unless he or she has probable cause (has noticed you doing something suspicious like trying to hide something). You can refuse to allow a search, but if you have nothing to hide, it is always better to comply.
  • If you think the officer acted illegally, wait until the interaction is over and then go home and contact a lawyer. Do not bring it up with the officer while sitting by the side of the road.
  • If the officer finds that you have been drinking or under the influence of a drug, they can arrest you. If you are arrested, they have the right to search your clothing, body, and belongings. If this happens, comply with everything asked of you and be as calm and polite as possible. Do not resist arrest or it will make things much worse later. Also, take note of whether or not the officer reads you the complete "Miranda Rights" before arresting you.
  • If the police officer asks you a lot of questions and you feel that they are heading towards an arrest, it is best to stop talking and wait until you have an attorney present.

After You are Done

If you are ticketed or let off with a warning and not arrested, take a few minutes in your car after the ordeal to calm yourself down and re-focus. Then safety and slowly merge back into traffic. The officer will normally wait for you to leave first and be watching so be on your best behavior and stay within the legal speed limit to your final destination.

Once you are home, you can regroup and assess the situation. If you feel that you were ticketed without cause or that the officer acted inappropriately, you have the option to file a complaint or contact your lawyer to proceed legally.

The more calm and respectful you are during the process of being pulled over will help you in the long run, no matter what the outcome.