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Driver's Guide: What Every Driver Should Know Before A Traffic Stop Happens

Explanation of Traffic Stops

One key point to remember - police officers don’t pull cars over randomly. They have either suspected or seen a violation that warrants the stop. Don’t jump on the defense, especially since it might lead to additional charges than the ones warranting the stop. Every police officer will say the same thing about a traffic stop, pulling someone over is one of the most risky and dangerous parts of their job. They don’t have good visibility into the car as they approach, so they don’t know what to expect. Experience, suspicions and training are all they have to rely on, which is why they are on guard and at the ready for any behavior that might endanger their lives. Law enforcement officers are people too, they have families and loved ones waiting for them at home. They put their lives on the line every day to enforce the laws that have been put in place to protect lives and safety of the community. Before even turning on the blue lights to signal the car to stop, most officers will run a license plate on a vehicle. From a license plate “run" they are able to gain information on the owner of the car and only the owner. If the owner of the car has a criminal record or a history of traffic violations, the officer is going to be highly suspicious. They are not able to determine what is going on inside of the car as they approach, so any suspicious movement of anyone in the car can be misinterpreted. Unfortunately, the owner is not always the one driving the car. It could be borrowed from a friend or family member. If the owner has a criminal record, the driver will be treated as if they were the one with the record. Protocol Steps for a Better Outcome These simple steps can make the next traffic stop go a little smoother. Blue Lights Approaching - Slow down, signal for a turn, and pull over in the nearest safe location Once those ominous flashing blue lights appear in the rear view and the siren is either blaring or even beeping the alert, it is time to pull over quickly and safely. Pick a safe spot that is well off the road and out of the flow of traffic, keeping in mind that the officer will need enough room to approach the car and not risk being hit by passing cars. Safety is the number one concern for everyone involved. Therefore it is within a driver’s rights to consider their own safety before pulling to the side of the road. Many factors affect this decision, such as the officer’s identity may be in question if they are in an unmarked vehicle or acting suspicious. Bad neighborhoods, risky times of day, the number of people around or the lack of people around are factors that can affect the safety of the driver and the officer. Several options are available to the driver to ensure their own safety. Call 911 to identify the officer as a member of the police force. It is considered acceptable to ask for their badge to be presented. Additional officers or even a supervisor can be requested if the officer seem suspicious or there are any other safety concerns. Providing the stop is close enough, driving to the nearest police station is also permitted. When pulling over, it is best to pick a nearby well lit parking lot. If you need to drive a little farther to find a safe location, decrease your speed SLOWLY and turn on the blinkers while driving to alert the officer of the intent to comply. Important reminder: DON’T slam the brakes! Rapid changes in speed cause the officer to hit his brakes rapidly to avoid an accident, this puts everyone in danger. Officer Approaches the Car - Turn off the car, open the window on the driver’s side completely before placing both hands on the steering wheel in plain view of the approaching officer.

If it is dark outside, assist the visibility of the officer by turning on the interior lights of the car. STAY IN THE CAR! No matter how nervous or angry, remember the point earlier about the risks and reasons for being pulled over. The officer must have felt warranted to do so to protect the safety of the community. Stop, think and remember to make his job easier, to ensure a better outcome. False accusations and arguments are never helpful and can harm the outcome of a case. As soon as the car has come to a complete stop, immediately turn off the engine to demonstrate compliance and no intention to flee. By opening the car window completely the officer can have full visibility inside. Hands should always be visible and on the steering wheel at the 10 and 2 positions. Any action to reach for a purse or into a glove compartment could be misconstrued as an attempt to hide something suspicious or pull out a dangerous weapon. The urge is strong to start getting everything in order to hand to the officer. It would not make them very happy to have to draw a weapon on someone who is trying to present a license and registration. DON’T move until asked to do so! Officer is Observing Behavior- Sit still and calm, only do what is asked. This is a crucial moment. Officers are trained to watch for any suspicious behavior. Sudden movement or throwing things around in the car lead them to believe something is being concealed from their view. Under normal circumstances an officer won’t ask to search the car, but if there is any reason for suspicion they are within their rights to do a complete search of the vehicle. Additionally, they have the right to perform a body search or pat down as well. Some of the most obvious signs that alert officers of suspicion are the following:

  1. Throwing things out of the window.
  2. Reaching under the seat.
  3. Sudden lowering of shoulders alerts them of guilt.

Officer Begins His Conversation - DON’T speak first! One exception to this rule. If there is a licensed gun inside of the vehicle, tell the officer immediately. Be ready to search for the permit when asked to present it. Never carry a firearm without a license. Many cases can be won or lost based on what is said between the accused and the officer. Don’t speak – just LISTEN! Once the officer asks for the license and registration information, it is time to search for the documents. Try to always keep necessary documents in an easy to find location, such as a sun visor or center console compartment. Be careful of open ended questions. Only give short and polite answers. Too much information can lead to bad outcomes. A little known fact, officers are taught to determine whether or not they want to give a ticket or a warning to an individual the minute they leave their police cruiser. So, even if they seem to be open to hearing what the accused has to say – DON’T give them any unnecessary information. Answers need to short, polite and to the point. For example: Officer – “Do you know why I stopped you?" You – “No" Officer – “Do you know how fast you were going?" You – “Yes, I do." Officer – “You were going 75, that is 15 miles over the speed limit." You – Don’t argue! Make sure you are non-committal with your answer. “I see." Or no answer is fine as well. Silence is not an admission of guilt. Officer returns to the cruiser At this point the officer is writing up either the ticket or warning. Sit patiently, don’t leave the car and don’t pick up the phone to make any calls. Officer returns to the car with the paperwork to sign. Ask “Am I free to go?" License and registration will be given back and a warning or ticket will be presented. Sign the documents presented (ticket or warning), then ask the officer to be released. The rule of thumb is that an officer can’t detain a suspect without proper cause more than 20 minutes. After the allotted 20 minutes, begin asking for release. Leaving - Leave first. Signal to traffic before entering and pull away slowly. An officer will keep the lights on during the stop until they re-enter the highway. They will wait for the scene to be clear before attempting departure. Don’t forget to signal before re-entering traffic, it would not be a good idea to get another ticket for yet another traffic violation. Pocket Guide

  1. Slow down, signal for a turn, and pull over in the nearest safe location.
  2. Turn off the car, roll down your window all of the way, and then place your hands on the steering wheel in plain view.
  3. Turn off the car, open the window on the driver’s side completely before placing both hands on the steering wheel in plain view of the approaching officer.
  4. If it is dark outside, assist the visibility of the officer by turning on the interior lights of the car.
  5. STAY IN THE CAR!
  6. Sit still and calm, only do what is asked.
  7. DON’T speak first!
  8. One exception to this rule. If there is a licensed gun inside of the vehicle, tell the officer immediately. Be ready to search for the permit when asked to present it. Never carry a firearm without a license.
  9. Be careful of open ended questions. Only give short and polite answers. Too much information can lead to bad outcomes.
  10. Ask “Am I free to go?"
  11. Leave first. Signal to traffic before entering and pull away slowly.

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