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What to do When Pulled Over by Police

Posted on by Dawna M. Roberts in LawSeptember 27, 2022

There are More Drivers Today than Ever Before

As of 2020, there were more than 228 million drivers on the roads of the US. At the same time, a reported 32 million drivers are pulled over annually on the streets. That equates to over 7% of all drivers being pulled over a year. That’s more than 50,000 drivers in a day being pulled over by police or authorities.

So many cars on the roads mean that accidents are bound to increase. In 2020, distracted driving alone caused 3,142 deaths. It’s no wonder why police have been cracking down on driving violations in the last few years. Along with increased death numbers and civil unrest—both elements cause volatile situations when police pull drivers over.

No matter who you are or where you’re from, getting pulled over by police can be intense. Nervous behavior can be misread as guilty acts; scared behavior can escalate into a fight or flight mode. If you are arrested, anything you say or do can be used against you—including any preconceived judgments. It’s vital that when being pulled over, everyone remain calm; starting to escalate the situation will always result in unneeded consequences.

pulled over by police

What to Do When Pulled Over by Police

Instructions for How to Safely Pull Over

These instructions will change depending on whether you are on surface streets or a highway. For example, on surface streets, you can pull over almost immediately in most cases; if the police pull you over on a highway, you should drive until safe to pull over or exit.

Following the general expectations of a “lawful driver” will help put anyone’s best foot forward when getting pulled over. When you start to hear those famous sirens or see some blue and red flashing lights, take our advice to stay safer.

Pull Over Quickly

If the comments above aren’t enough, we will emphasize them further. Pulling over at the first opportunity means getting your car out of the way of oncoming traffic. It also means ensuring that the officer can safely maneuver around your vehicle if needed. However, ensuring that you pull over quickly is more important than any of this. Some officers may consider lingering or waiting for a “good spot” to signify a potential speed chase.

Make the Scene As Safe for Both Parties As Possible

Turn the car off, the internal light on, drop your window part way, and get your hands on the steering wheel. These are many steps to achieve in a short time—but it only takes a few seconds. It will take a fraction of the time it takes an officer to take care of their stop protocols; that gives you extra time to think about why you were speeding in the first place.

Turning off the car fosters goodwill because you won’t suddenly start driving away. Turning on the internal light during nighttime stops helps the officer judge how extreme of a threat you may be. Lowering your window part way protects you and the officer because both parties can hear each other. Finally, putting your hands on the steering wheel lets the officer see your hands, making the driver and officer safer.

Once Asked By the Officer, Collect Any Valid Driver’s Information

Do not start to do this without being asked. Officers are trained to defend themselves—and a driver they see reaching for their glove compartment may have consequences. Only after greeting the officer and being asked by them to get your driver's information should you reach for it. Slow movements are essential.

Officers May Look Inside Your Vehicle As They Approach

As well as being a suitable protocol for avoiding aggressive dogs, officers are also looking for stuff. Cars are pulled over for many reasons, from failing a license plate lookup to broken taillights. This means that when an officer pulls over a vehicle, one of the reasons they can give is reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion is valuable for officers, but if a driver has anything incriminating “in plain view,” that could mean jail.

If You Get a Ticket, Sign It and Dispute It Later

After an officer has written a ticket, they cannot rescind it. Tickets are a written convenience for the driver, to let them expect one to come in the mail. If you don’t sign the ticket in front of the officer, you will still receive that ticket; even worse, you will likely have to pay additional fines. Drivers can always dispute tickets—but the place to do that is in traffic court, not the street.

What Not to Do When Pulled Over by Police

There are many reasons why getting pulled over by police may be scary. Anyone can make split-second judgments, and lives can be lost; whether these situations and their outcomes are correct doesn’t matter when tragedies have occurred. To lower the amount of these tragedies, consider three pieces of advice.

Do Not Lose Your Composure or Intensify the Situation

Only half of the situation will be within your control, but with luck, that will be all that’s needed; officers tend to respond differently to the person looking at them and the person looking away. At the same time, becoming belligerent or antagonistic to the officer has repeatedly proven to end in tragedies.

Do Not Exit Your Vehicle Unless Asked Directly

Prematurely opening your car door will immediately make you a possible threat to the officer. This act also has proven many times to end in tragedies.

Avoid Sudden Movements While Keeping Your Hands Visible

Sudden movements can be considered a "tip-off" that you are guilty of something. Authorities refer to this type of body language as "furtive movements." Many traffic stops became arrests because the officer was suspicious of the driver's sudden movements. At the same time, it is crucial to keep your hands visible to the officer—for everyone's safety.

Stay Safe When Being Pulled Over

If getting pulled over, stay safe by projecting a “lawful driver”:

  • Pull over quickly and safely.
  • Turn the car off, light on, window down, and puts your hands on the steering wheel.
  • Once asked by the officer, collect your driver’s information.
  • If issued a traffic ticket, sign it, then dispute it in traffic court.

Further, if ever pulled over by police, do not:

  • Lose your composure or temper.
  • Exit your vehicle unless directly asked.
  • Make sudden movements or hide your hands.
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