15 Things You Should Never Do When You Get Pulled Over
This is how to keep calm and retain your rights.
Every year, roughly 20 million drivers are pulled over by law enforcement officials in America, according to Stanford University’s Open Policing Project. That’s around 10 percent of Americans with valid driver’s licenses—so it’s not crazy to think that you could experience a run-in with the law the next time you hit the open road. And really, is there anything worse than hearing that siren and seeing those red, white, and blue lights in your rearview mirror?
Luckily, we have some tips to ensure that any potential interaction with the police goes as smoothly as possible. Within, we lay down the law and expose the worst things to do when you get pulled over.
When you see those lights start to flash behind you, Farid Yaghoubtil, Esq., a partner at Downtown L.A. Law Group, says it’s best to remain calm and avoid panicking.
“Generally officers are on high alert after pulling you over. You should always remain calm and comply to avoid any issues,” he says. Remember: The police officer is merely doing their job by enforcing the law, and panicking is only going to make the situation that much more tense.
Don’t remove your seatbelt.
Until the police officer can clearly see what you’re doing, do not take off your seatbelt. Though it might be a force of habit when stopping your vehicle, removing your seatbelt before the police officer comes to speak with you could give them a reason to assume that you were never wearing one in the first place, forcing them to issue a ticket for that violation as well.
Don’t speak unless spoken to.
According to former civil litigator Clinton M. Sandvick, you should always wait to speak until the police officer tells you why they pulled you over. “Let the officer approach the car and let them take the lead,” he says. Being the first to speak in this situation just makes it appear as though you’re guilty or are attempting to be combative—two things that could spell trouble for you in the long-run.
“Do not lose your temper because the officer will record that in his or her notes. Then, when you go to court and try to reach a plea deal for a lesser sentence, the prosecutor or judge will ask the officer for their recollection of when you were pulled over,” Simeone explains. “If the officer reports that you were hostile or said inappropriate things, the judge or prosecutor will be less likely to offer or approve a lesser plea.” (And hey, who knows? A kind and upbeat demeanor may even get you out of the ticket in the first place!)
Don’t reach for your license before telling the officer what you’re doing.
To a police officer approaching a vehicle, sudden hand movements can be perceived as a possible threat. That means reaching for items before you’re prompted to do so—even if it’s just your license and registration—is a potentially life-threatening move, says Fred Brewington of The Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington in Hempstead, New York.
“If you reach for a wallet, etc., tell the officer what you are doing first,” Brewington says. “Roll your car window down only several inches, enough to pass your license and insurance card to the officer.”
Don’t move your hands out of sight.
Generally, Simeone strongly suggests keeping your hands where the officer can see them. “Police officers are often nervous when they approach a car—they do not know the intentions of the occupants or whether they have any weapons,” he explains. “So, keep your hands on the steering wheel or otherwise in sight.”
Don’t admit guilt.
When the officer asks if you know why you’ve been pulled over, your only answer should be “no,” according to Simeone. Believe it or not, even an innocent response like, “Was I speeding?” can get you into quite a bit of hot water.
“When they ask you, ‘Do you know why I pulled you over?’ their goal is for you to admit that you were speeding or doing something else illegal,” explains Simeone. “Then, they record the question and your answer and you have basically admitted fault.”
Don’t leave your car.
“One thing you should absolutely never do is to get out of your car and approach the officer,” says Justin Lovely of The Lovely Law Firm in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. “While this may seem innocent enough, remember that an officer has no idea what he is walking upon when he or she initiates a traffic stop.”
The reason why an officer takes a bit to approach your car is because they are “running the tag of the stopped vehicle,” Lovely adds. “A person can sometimes become impatient and get out of his car and approach the officer’s vehicle. Do not do this. This could be perceived as a threat by the officer.”
As Brewington points out, disobeying a police officer’s instructions will only make him or her more likely to write you a ticket or use force to ensure that you aren’t putting their lives in danger.
“Don’t resist. You could get arrested, beaten, or worse,” Brewington says. “You are far better off fighting for your rights in court.”
Don’t pull over in a potentially dangerous spot.
Though it’s rare, police officer impersonations do happen—so taking extra steps to ensure your own safety is incredibly important. According to Gainesville, Florida, law firm Meldon Law, you can protect yourself by only pulling over in a well-lit or populous areas. No police officer will fault you for wanting to ensure your own safety on the side of the road.
If a stretch of road feels especially unsafe, you can request for the police officer to take you to the nearest police station. If the police officer appears in plainclothes or something just doesn’t feel right, you can also always ask to see their badge or some form of identification that clearly displays that they are an active officer.
Don’t encroach on an officer’s personal space.
Though you may see it as a friendly action, when you touch a police officer or encroach on their personal space, they are likely to either become suspicious of your actions or label you as an immediate threat, notes the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU).
Don’t do anything before understanding your rights.
When you are pulled over by the police, there are certain rights you have as a driver and passenger to keep in mind before uttering a single word. According to the ACLU, both drivers and passengers retain the right to remain silent during traffic stops. Additionally, if you’re a passenger at a traffic stop, you have the right to ask the police officer if you may leave.
Additionally, as Brewington explains, you do not have to consent to a search of your car or property by the police during a traffic stop. “Never agree to a search of your car,” he says. “If an officer has to ask to search the car, search your belongings, or pat you down, then you are not being detained or arrested. Always say politely but firmly, ‘I do not consent to this search.’ Don’t just nod or shake your head. You don’t have to explain why you refuse a search. Just say, ‘I don’t want to be searched,’ or, ‘I don’t consent to any form of search.'”
Don’t refuse to sign a traffic ticket.
If the police officer does decide to write you a traffic ticket, you may be required to sign it on the spot. Rest assured, though, that signing your traffic ticket is not an admission of guilt, according to Hochman & Goldin, P.A., a Miami-based law firm. By signing the ticket, you’re simply acknowledging that you’ve received the ticket, therefore making it impossible to argue to the court that you never had it in your possession. And at the end of the day, not signing the ticket at the traffic stop could get you in more trouble, seeing as a police officer could choose to arrest you for your refusal.
Don’t get distracted.
Listen carefully to what the officer is saying and doing during the traffic stop. Try to memorize or jot down the officer’s name or badge number, along with any information that they disclose about your case.
Don’t try to outrun the police.
Though this piece of advice should exist in the realm of common sense, attempting to outrun the police poses extreme dangers to yourself, the officers, and anyone on the road. Plus, once you’re inevitably caught at the end of your pursuit, you could find yourself facing even more serious charges.
“Do not drive off or attempt to avoid being pulled over,” says Falen O. Cox of Cox, Rodman, & Middleton, LLC in Georgia. “An officer may have already provided your tag number to dispatch before he or she pulls you over. If so, the police have much of the information necessary to identify you (or at least the person who the car is registered to).” Cox adds that “driving off or eluding police can very well lead to a pursuit, which can be life-threatening for the driver, passengers, the police, and anyone else who happens to be on the road.” And for more ways to remain safe on the road, This Is the Safest Way to Change a Flat Tire.
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