Written by attorney Houson R. Lafrance

How to Survive a Traffic Stop!

One would be hard press to turn on the news or read their social media timeline and not find something or someone talking about police behavior during a traffic stop. All one has to do is just read the comments and you’d be able to see the clear and sharp divide between people. Despite any view you may have I believe we all can agree that no one wants to lose their life during a traffic stop.

So in order to hopefully help some folks I put together this post. Because some people are surprised to learn that they actually have rights and that there is a limit to what a police officer can and can’t do.

It goes without saying that traffic stops are the most common encounter you’ll have with police officers on the road. Knowing what actions police officers can legally take, and your own obligations, will help you stay calm if you’re pulled over.

If they pull you over, a police officer can legally ask to see the following forms of identification:

  • Your driver’s license
  • Proof of insurance
  • Your vehicle’s registration

These forms of identification allow the police to check whether there are any charges against you and whether you own your vehicle. You have to show these documents if you have them.

Word of advice, do not start searching for you’re documents until the police officers tells you to do so. In light of today’s climate any sudden movement while reaching into your glove box could make it seem like you’re looking for a weapon.

Another piece of advice follow the officer’s instruction. Stay seated with your hands on the steering wheel, unless you are prompted to exit your vehicle. A police officer has the right to ask you to exit your vehicle at any time during a traffic stop, whether you have been placed under arrest or not.

Police questioning

I normally advise people not to talk with police because the police have a tendency to twist words to fit their probable cause. However, in cases of a traffic stop it’s usually better to give short answers to the officer’s questions.

Answer yes or no and don’t volunteer any extra information. Talking to little at a traffic stop is not as bad as talking to much at a traffic stop.

Searching your person

A police officer has the right to pat you down or frisk you during a traffic stop if they have reasonable suspicion that you are armed or dangerous.

They can also frisk you and any passengers in your car if they believe you might be involved in criminal activity.

Police officers can seize any illegal items that they uncover while frisking you during a traffic stop.

Searching your vehicle

A police officer can ask to search your vehicle if they have reasonable suspicion that it contains evidence of a crime or illegal activity. If you agree to this request, they can conduct their search.

That being said you can always refuse the search but do so without being rude to the officer. The fact that you refused cannot be used against you at trial. However, a police officer can search your vehicle without consent if they have probable cause.

Seizing items in your car

A police officer doesn’t have to search your car to seize items from it. The office can take any illegal thing he sees in plain view. These items might include open cans or bottles of alcohol, illicit drugs, or drug paraphernalia.

The police officer is allowed to open your car door and reach into your vehicle to retrieve the illegal object. Just know if the office does see something in plain view while he is retrieving he can grab whatever else is illegal in the car.

Your behavior during a traffic stop

Attitude is a matter of life or death in a traffic. Be nice and respectful. You will not get any points for cussing out the police officer or just being rude. Your family will appreciate seeing you walking through the door instead of a jail cell or funeral home.

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