Written by attorney Michael Kielsky | Jan 7, 2013

Remaining Courteous in a Traffic Stop

Very little compares with the sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, often accompanied by an adrenaline rush, fear, anxiety, and more when you see those flashing lights in your rear-view mirror. Without a doubt, this can be a stressful experience, which at the least will be inconvenient, and with the potential to result in a monetary penalty, an impact on your driving privileges, and even a loss of liberty, or in the most extreme situations, a loss of life. Keeping as calm as possible will aid you in minimizing the risks. Of course, whatever you can do to avoid being someone the police want to pull over in the first place is something you may have a lot more control over. If your license and registration are current, your equipment (lights, tires, etc.) are in proper condition, and you are minding the traffic rules, you have minimized the factors that may give an officer cause to pull you over. You should not need to be reminded to absolutely avoiding drinking and driving. Yet, despite it all, you may be pulled over. While your first thoughts may focus on how unfair it is for the officer to target you, then turning to ideas on how to argue your way out of the ticket, remember that the officer does this regularly, and nobody who is pulled over is thankful. Common courtesy and a calm, business-like approach will be a welcome change for the officer, and can improve your chances of minimizing the impact on you. If the violation is trivial, and the officer is on the prowl for bigger violations (such as looking for DUI offenders), they will often want to be on their way quickly as well. Remember, the officer has discretion in whether to issue you a ticket or a warning. Being calm and polite, and complying with the officer's reasonable requests, improve your chance of either avoiding the ticket entirely or successfully fighting it later. Follow these tips to make your next traffic stop as painless as possible. Pull over immediately, or as soon as it is safe. Do not aggravate the situation by continuing to drive for miles. Indicate to the officer that you are aware that you are being stopped by at least tapping your brakes, signaling to move to the right, and starting to safely maneuver towards the right, all while minding all traffic rules. At your first safe opportunity, pull over and stop. Pull as far to the right as possible, making it safer for the officer while walking to your car. Remain in your vehicle and wait for the officer to come to you. Never get out unless the officer commands it. Roll down your window, turn off your engine, and keep your hands where the officer can see them. If you're wearing sunglasses, take them off. If it's dark, you might want to turn on your interior lights. These steps will help you appear non-threatening. Let the officer speak first. Don't ask why you were stopped or offer explanations at this point. If you have any doubts regarding whether the person is truly a police officer, you should request to see the officer's badge and ID. Most officers in most common traffic stop situations will begin with a polite greeting and then ask you a trick question, including, "do you know why you were pulled over" or "do you know how fast you were going". Resist the temptation to respond with a wise crack, such as, "don't you know", or a response that can be used against you, such as "I don't know how fast as I was going", or "I was speeding", but instead give a non-committal response such as, "I am curious as to what you think, officer." If you chose to challenge a ticket in court, an answer admitting that you don't know how fast you were going, or that you don't know the speed limit at that location, or that you admitted a traffic violation, each may be used against you, so don't admit to anything. You will be asked for documents, probably including your license, registration, and proof of insurance. Again, planning ahead will make things go more smoothly - know exactly where you have your registration and insurance documents, and make sure they are not buried somewhere inaccessible, and make sure you have your driving license with you. Of course, each of your documents should be current and up-to-date. Explain to the officer where you have your driving license, and ask if you may retrieve it. Follow the officer's instructions. Repeat the same for the remaining documents. If you have a weapon in your vehicle, follow state laws regarding whether you have to disclose that to the officer without prompting or if asked a direct question. You do not want the officer to see you reach toward a weapon which may happen to be near your documentation. In some cases, the officer will demand that you surrender your weapon to them, for the duration of the stop. Again, be aware of and follow the applicable state law. In your interaction with the officer, remain polite and business-like. Once the officer has your documents, they may explain the reasons for the stop, and the ticket they are contemplating. Plead your case politely. You can ask things like where and how the officer clocked your speed and when the radar was last calibrated. You can also ask if the officer personally clocked you, of, if not, ask whether the officer is sure you're the person their colleague clocked. Ask to see the radar, but remember, not all jurisdictions require that you be allowed to see this, so don't argue if the officer refuses. Avoid sounding argumentative while asking these questions. The exception would be, for example, if you know you were not speeding. In that situation, you could tell the officer what your speed was, and how you know that this was your speed. State it firmly and politely, but don't argue with the officer. If you are sure you committed the traffic violation, and want to take a chance that the officer might let you off with only a warning, and if your interactions with the officer so far have been polite and business-like, you may consider admitting your error, apologizing, perhaps offering some excuse (along the lines of "I was pre-occupied with a serious family situation and not paying enough attention to my driving"). That may be enough, but asking, "would you consider letting me off with a warning, I haven't had a ticket in many, many years", if true, may help your case. Don't beg, but make it clear it's important to you. If you are being cited, go ahead and sign the citation. This is not an admission of guilt, just confirmation that you received the ticket. Not signing it will make no difference, and will be another reason that your traffic stop will be more memorable to the officer, which cannot help you if you chose to fight the case in court. After the officer ends the traffic stop, pull away slowly and safely. Again, do not give the officer reason to remember you. If you decide to fight the ticket, it's best that you're just another of a countless number of traffic stops. If you think you might fight the ticket, gather your own information during the stop. Take notes about the location, date, time, traffic conditions, weather conditions. Your own notes, written within a reasonable time of the incident, are evidence. Don't be pushy about it, but if you are allowed to see the radar, try to note the model. While the officer is writing your ticket, write down everything you can remember about your conversation, the officer's identity, the unit number or license plate of the patrol car, and more. Again, they key will be to avoid being particularly memorable, so gather as much information as you can without making any big deal out of it with the officer. If you had any passengers in your car, write down their information, and make any notes regarding what they may have seen, such as whether one of your passengers was paying close attention to your speed, and why. If it may be relevant, notate any identifying characteristics of your car. Remember, in the vast majority of cases, the officer is just doing a job. When you make that job easier and treat the officer with respect, you increase your odds of getting respect in return.

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