There you are, driving down the road and listening to your favorite song on the radio and suddenly your mirrors light up with those red and blue lights. You’re being pulled over. Now most people already know why they are being pulled over. You were speeding, you forgot to renew your tag, that broken tail light you’ve been ignoring for months now; whatever it was, you already know. So what do you do now? Well, its simple.
STOP YOUR VEHICLE
Acknowledge you’re being pulled over by slowing down and maybe even turning on your hazards. Do not speed up. It doesn’t matter what you drive, you cannot outrun the radio, they have helicopters, and if you bail, they have dogs. Then you find a safe place to pull over. That doesn’t mean drive 5 more miles until you get where you want to go, it means looking for a place that is safe for you to pull over and allow the Officer to do his job immediately. Driving to a nearby parking lot is okay. If you pull over at the side of the road, make sure you pull far enough over so that the traffic stop can be performed safely. Side Note: This isn’t a game of tag. If you are close enough to your home and you pull into the driveway, you are not safe. You are still being pulled over, it is still a traffic stop and you must still stay in your car until the stop is completed.
Before the Officer gets to your car, you should grab all your documentation. When you are organized and know where everything is, this takes a few seconds. If its at night, perhaps turning on your cabin light so they can see you to ease their concerns. Don’t forget, the same places people keep their documentation, their glove box, center compartment or in their pants, are the same places people keep weapons. So if you cannot find your documentation, just put your hands on the steering wheel and wait for the Officer. If you cannot find your paperwork because your car is a mess or you inexplicably removed the documentation that is always supposed to be in your car, stop moving around and put your hands on the steering wheel and wait for the officer. The more you move around, the bigger the threat you appear.
BE POLITE AND COMPLY
When the Officer arrives at your window, be polite and hand them your paperwork. Answer their questions honestly. Odds are, if you’re honest with them, you’ll get a warning. You don’t have to admit to being guilty of anything, but don’t come out giving a straight up lie to cover your behavior. They have heard all the excuses, you’re not going to be original. Be friendly and cooperative.
If you have a weapon on you or in your car, don’t let them find out by surprise. Each state has their own laws on how to handle a firearm during a traffic stop. Some require you to disclose to the Officer immediately, some states only require you to notify the Officer if they ask. The best option is to let them know up front. If you have a concealed weapons permit, hand it over with your drivers license. Some Officers may ask you to get out so they can temporarily seize the weapon on the grounds of Officer safety, some may not. They will tell you what to do.
Follow the Officers instructions. They are in charge of the traffic stop and will determine how it proceeds. They will tell you what they need, what is wrong, and how the situation needs to be resolved. If you are complying with their instructions, the stop will go smoothly and uneventfully. In fact, the Officer’s demeanor will be based solely on how you act and what you do. So if they see you are compliant and forthcoming, you’ll be on your way in a few moments.
THINGS YOU SHOULD NOT DO
Those are the basic steps to complete a traffic stop in a safe manner. Now lets go over the things that will likely turn that traffic stop sideways. You’ll notice that many of these are common sense.
- Don’t have or use drugs: I know its hard, many of you cannot help it. For those who are unaware, all an Officer needs is probable cause to go beyond the traffic stop. If you cannot help yourself and smoke marijuana all day, the odds are you are going to smell like it. And if the Officer smells marijuana in your car, they now have probable cause. Even if there are no drugs in the car, the smell alone is enough. Don’t leave your drugs in the cup holder. Don’t roll your joints in the car. And don’t carry drugs on you. If they have a K9, it will smell it even if your windows are up and doors closed. And if you have drugs, that broken brake light just got you a prison sentence. Keep your drugs at home, and don’t smoke in the car or before you go anywhere.
- Don’t fight your case on the side of the road: Cops are people and they make mistakes or hold prejudices like all people. So that means that they are not always right. I have gotten out of a few citations myself because the Officer erred. It happens. Amazingly, the system created an avenue to address those issues. Its called court. If you feel that an Officer acted inappropriate, there is an avenue to address that too. Its called Internal Affairs (or whatever name the Department uses for their internal investigations of Officer accountability). So if you disagree with the citation or believe the Officer stopped you unjustly or acted inappropriately, file a complaint with the department and take your case to court. Just remember, both require evidence. If you just walk in there mad without evidence because you just disagree with the traffic stop, you will lose. You must actually show that they were wrong, not that you were just offended. But if you decide that the time to argue your case is on the side of the road, then you may escalate the situation from a simple citation to an arrest.
- Don’t Use a YouTube/Facebook Law Degree: If you tell a cop that you know your rights, odds are that you don’t. It’s bad enough that people watch TV and think they know the law. Just because you watch Law & Order reruns with your grandmother on TNT doesn’t make you an expert on Habeas Corpus. No, cops do not have to read you your rights when they arrest you and no you do not have a right to a phone call. But what is worse are the people who watch YouTube or Facebook videos to learn how to “beat the police”. If you use the tips in those videos, you are likely going to end up in jail. If you see a video that says you do not have to roll your window down and you try that on the police, you will lose. If you refuse to roll down your window, Officers can just order you to exit your vehicle. Under the Supreme Court ruling, Pennsylvania v. Mimms, you must exit the vehicle when ordered to do so by an Officer. If you have something illegal in the car, they will see it because windows are transparent. And if you are smoking weed in the car, they will still smell it if you only open your window a crack. So what do you gain from not rolling down your window? Nothing. If you think that by asking a cop if you are free to go will magically make you free to go, you are mistaken. Once you are detained, you are not free to go unless the Officer tells you so. Repeatedly asking them will not speed up the stop. You just sound like that annoying 10 year old asking “are we there yet?”. And my favorites, the sovereign citizens. These are individuals who believe that they are immune from the law because they see themselves as citizens under the Articles of Confederation from when the United States was created. The Articles of Confederation was nullified by the US Constitution, unfortunately, and those claims are false. They must comply with the laws of the states they are located in. Holding up a piece of paper saying you are exempt does not make it true. I think the biggest example of why you shouldn’t follow the YouTube/Facebook legal training is because in every video, you see them getting hauled off to jail, and their windows are usually broken.
- Don’t Act Like A Child: If you don’t like the fact that you got a citation or even that you got stopped, don’t throw a temper tantrum. Don’t start screaming like a toddler, ripping up the citation, jumping around in your seat. Don’t call them names or talk back. You are escalating the situation. The Officer could easily see that you are having a mental health emergency and have you Baker Acted. Nothing says mental health emergency like a 30 year old woman who stops talking and just starts screaming like a banshee for no reason. When you act this way, you are prolonging the stop and escalating it beyond a simple citation.
- Don’t Resist an Officer: If an Officer stops you and asks for your license, don’t refuse and ask why. If an Officer tells you not to be reaching around the cabin, then don’t. If the cop tells you to show your hands, show them. The Officer is telling you everything you need to do to stay safe. Listen to them.
- Don’t Point a Gun at the Police: Self explanatory. If you have a weapon, and you hate the cops, don’t point it at them. They have one too.
- Don’t Drive Away: Another self explanatory thing not to do. Officers have a job to do, and that includes stopping people to investigate a crime or traffic violation. If they have stopped you, you do not have the right to drive away. If you do, they will chase you.
- Don’t Fight It: If it turns out that you have a warrant or that you committed a serious crime, do not fight the Officer trying to arrest you. You will have your day in court. But if you physically fight the Officer, you may end up escalating the situation to the point where you could be hurt or killed. The Officer is just trying to do his job, he is not the bad guy. In fact, you are.
- Don’t Break the Law: The very simplest step to take. Don’t break the law and you won’t have a warrant, you won’t have to worry about being arrested, and you won’t have to worry about the police bothering you. Everything else would be a minor inconvenience that can be handled at traffic court or making a repair.
The overall secret to getting thru a traffic stop safely rests solely on you. How you act and your demeanor is the key factor to how a traffic stop progresses. If you want the stop to go by quickly, cooperate, be polite and be honest. People fail to understand that Officers react to everything you do. If you act in a manner that puts them on edge, where they feel like there may exists a threat to their safety, then they will be react to those conditions. So be smart, be courteous, and just remember that Cops are just everyday people just doing their jobs. Don’t take out your frustration that you got caught on them. Don’t get nervous or anxious, its just an everyday occurrence that happens millions of times a year. If you get worked up, you will make the situation even more tense. Just relax, follow directions and you will end up going home with nothing more than a minor time inconvenience and maybe a citation. And that is how you keep yourself and the Officer safe.