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How to respond when an officer pulls you over

Getting pulled over by an officer is a stressful situation. It’s important to remember to stay calm and obey a few simple rules.

It doesn’t matter if you’re in a hurry, late for an appointment or not feeling well – when you see the police lights behind you, begin to pull over.

You don’t have to pull over right away, but you should activate your flashers so the officer knows you see him and drop your speed to a level slower than you usually travel so the officer knows you are not trying to flee. If you’re driving on a multiple-lane road, begin to safely maneuver to the shoulder on the right lane.

Don’t get out of the car unless ordered to do so

Find a safe place to stop. Come to a complete stop. Turn off your engine. If it’s after dark, turn on the dome light so the interior is illuminated. Don’t get out of the car. Keep your hands on the steering wheel where the officer can see them.

Remember, the officer doesn’t know if you are simply a driver with a lead foot or if you are a drug mule with a car full of contraband and an automatic weapon – and until the officer is sure one way or the other, he’s going to assume the worst.

Things the officer can ask you to do:

  • Roll down your window (a reasonable request, the courts have determined)
  • Get out of your car (also a reasonable request, the courts have found)
  • Provide your driver’s license, proof of insurance and vehicle registration (items you need to have in your vehicle when it’s on the road)

Don’t make sudden moves or reach for areas in the car that aren’t visible to the officer. He may think you’re reaching for a weapon. Simply say “my license is in my pocket” before you reach for your pocket, or “my registration is in the glove compartment” before reaching to open the box.

Be polite. Most officers are just doing their job

Be polite to the officer, but remember that anything you say will be used against you in court so be careful what you say.

The officer does not have the right to search your car unless he sees something illegal in plain view or smells an illegal drug. Under most circumstances, you have the right to refuse a search of your vehicle. If the officer asks, simply say “I do not consent to a search of my vehicle.” If the officer searches anyway, inform your lawyer later. Don’t bother arguing with the officer.

If the officer writes a ticket, he will ask you to sign it. This is not an admission of guilt, just an acknowledgement that you received the ticket. Any issue of guilt or innocence can be brought to a judge at your hearing, if you choose.