You see the unmistakable flash of red and blue lighting up the night sky in your rear-view mirror. Your stomach clenches slightly as you automatically look down at your speedometer. You see you really are going too fast, but maybe, just maybe, the trooper is after someone else. As you pull over to the side of the road, those flashing lights slow with you and follow you onto the shoulder. Now what?
While it’s never pleasant, it’s not uncommon for a driver to be pulled over for speeding at least once in their driving career. Some drivers are, of course, more familiar with this encounter than others, but regardless of experience, it’s helpful to know how to behave when interacting with an officer who is about to write you a citation.
The first thing to know is that police officers are trained to make up their mind about issuing a citation before they even step out of their car to ask you for your license. In general, there’s not much you can do to change an officer’s mind. There is, however, a great deal you can do to improve your chances of successfully contesting a citation if you receive one, and most of these center around making yourself as unmemorable to the officer as possible. If everything about your stop is routine, the officer likely won’t have much to say about it when you’re in court.
To that end, when an officer first turns on his signal to pull you over, try to move to the side of the road as quickly as is safely possible. Be sure to use your turn signals when doing so. Pull over in the safest available spot, so the officer doesn’t have to enter traffic to reach your vehicle. If it’s dark, try to stop in a lit area or under a street light, so the officer will feel more comfortable while interacting with you. You should also turn on your dome light, so the officer can you and your passengers clearly.
Once you’re stopped, roll down your window, turn off your engine, and place your hands on the steering wheel. Take a few deep breaths if you’re feeling startled, and try to calm yourself down. Turn on your emergency flashers to acknowledge the officer and indicate to other drivers that there is a stopped vehicle on the road. Don’t go rummaging through your glove compartment for proof of insurance until the officer asks you to do so. This also helps to make the officer feel more comfortable. A person reaching into a glove compartment could just as easily be hiding something or looking for a weapon. Ideally, keep your license and up-to-date insurance documents in an easy-to-access, organized area of your car.
Follow the 3 Most Important Rules in dealing with the officer that just pulled you over.
Rule #1: Always be courteous and respectful. Remember all those times your mama told you to be polite and mind your manners? This is one time you need to remember what she taught you! You do not need to agree with, argue with, or ignore the officer. Respectful and courteous is the first rule in dealing with the police.
Rule #2: Resist any requests by the officer until you are forced to comply. However, always follow Rule #1 while following Rule #2. When you pull over to the side of the road, turn on your dome light, roll your window 1/3 of the way down (just enough room to verbally communicate and pass documents), and put both your hands on the steering wheel. Then: politely decline to get out of the car; politely decline to engage in any dialogue about what you are doing or where you are going; politely refuse to roll the window down any further. If the officer is persistent and it looks like an arrest may be made, contact an attorney that knows traffic law.
Rule #3: Never answer any questions! Legally, you are never under any obligation to answer any questions from police officers without an attorney present. There are many questions that sound harmless and you may think an answer will even help your cause, but usually those questions are designed to hurt you, not help. For example, if the officer asks, “Do you know why I pulled you over tonight?” You may want to try to explain and admit to speeding. But that will only build the case against you as you just admitted guilt. The correct response is, “No officer, I don’t.” Again, follow Rule #1. Politely decline to answer any questions.I thank Tyler Tervooren of Riskology for reducing the many things you think you should do when stopped by the police to just these three simple rules. Hopefully, I have explained enough about each rule that you now know what to do when you see those red and blues light up your rear-view mirror.
While you should avoid lying, it is also important to avoid admitting any guilt. Ultimately, do your best to offer as little information as possible while still being polite. When asked if you know why the officer stopped you, the correct answer is ‘no.’ When asked if you know how fast you were driving, the correct answer is ‘yes,’ but don’t offer up a specific number (and don’t lie). The officer will likely also state the speed he recorded you at, if he does, a simple ‘I see’ is the best response. Also, it’s important to remember that if you feel uncomfortable answering a question, remember that you do have the right to remain silent. Anything you say to an officer can be used against you in court.
Finally, be wary of the over-friendly officer. While some police officers are genuinely friendly people, others will try to put you at ease to get you to cooperate and admit that you are guilty, either directly or indirectly. Be polite, but remember that they’ve probably already made their mind up about your ticket.