While people who get behind the wheel after drinking or under the influence of drugs know they're committing a crime, it's possible for a driver to commit a minor traffic offense without realizing it. Traveling too fast for conditions, broken taillights, and other problems with the vehicle are all common reasons for traffic stops, yet many drivers aren't taught how to respond when an officer pulls the car over.
What to Do If Your Vehicle Is Pulled Over by a Police Officer
While it can be a frightening experience to be pulled over, drivers can protect their legal rights by following proper protocol and keeping a cool head.
If a police officer turns on his emergency lights or siren behind you, you should:
- Find a safe place to pull over. Slow down and find a spot on the right-hand shoulder (to the right of the solid white line) where you and the officer can park without obstructing traffic. Don't stop a bridge or on a curve where it's difficult to see oncoming traffic.
- Stay in the vehicle. Always remain in the vehicle unless the police officer asks you to step out. As the officer approaches the driver’s side window, keep both hands on the steering wheel in clear view of the officer. If you're pulled over at night, you may turn on the car’s interior light.
- Comply with reasonable requests. Police officers usually request to see a driver’s license, proof of insurance, and vehicle registration. Only retrieve these items after the officer has asked for them, since reaching into a wallet, purse, or glove box could be misinterpreted as looking for a weapon.
- Keep answers short and polite. The officer may ask you if you know why you were stopped, or if you know how fast you were going. If you're unsure of the answers, say “I don’t know.” The officer will have to explain his reasons to you.
- Don't refuse a ticket. If the officer issues a ticket, a driver shouldn't argue his case or refuse to sign for the citation. Signing a ticket isn't proof of a driver’s guilt—it's only proof that the driver received the ticket. Any argument the driver wishes to make should be done in traffic court, not at the traffic stop.
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