What to do if I am Pulled Over for a Traffic Violation?
An police vehicle behind you has lit you up, or an officer has waved you to the side of the road. What do you do?
Before the officer comes to your windowFirst, always pull to the right hand shoulder, even if you must work your way across several lanes of traffic. If a police vehicle is lighting you up, other drivers will get out of your way. Second is that you do not know that you are being pulled over or if the officer is simply trying to get past you unless the officer follows you to the right. Give them every chance to pass you by.
Once you have stopped, do nothing. Do not release your seat belt; we hear regularly from people who have gotten No Seat Belt tickets who had been wearing it but released it before the officer came to their window to get their paperwork. Release it once the officer comes to your window and have seen that you were wearing it.
Do not reach into your glove box or center console and start looking for your vehicle paperwork. Remember that the officer does not know who you are nor do they know what you are reaching for. The officer does not know if you are simply on your way to the store for some milk, or are a tweeker with a duffel bag full of heads in the trunk.
The best thing to do is to roll down your window and sit and quietly with your hands atop the steering wheel until the officer comes to your window and has time to assess you. If they ask for your Driver's License, Registration or Insurance paperwork, tell them where you are reaching to before you do so.
Dealing with the OfficerThe number one rule is to be polite and cooperative. Remember that the officer is not your enemy, and this is not personal. Remember that the officer is just doing their job, and they do have a legal right to stop you if they believe that you have committed a violation. If you feel that you had committed no traffic violation, understand that the officer may have made a good faith mistake and do not get upset about it. Keep it professional. Being argumentative or condescending is not going to benefit you, quite the contrary. Be polite and non-argumentative even if you disagree with the officer's stated reasons for the stop. Officers may decide to reduce the amount over the speed limit that they charge you with, reducing your fine and any potential insurance impact, or decide to warn you instead of cite you for other violations such as expired license plate tabs or the aforementioned seat belt violation. Do not ask them to do this, or try and talk your way out of a ticket as you are likely to make admissions that can later be used against you. Law Enforcement is under pressure to increase the number tickets they issue; if an officer has pulled you over, assume from the beginning that you are going to get a ticket. Just do not give them reason to pile on any additional violations that they might otherwise choose to overlook.
Which does not mean that the officer is your friend. Anything that you say to the officer that can be used against you will find its way into the report that will be submitted to the judge. You do have the right not to answer their questions, within reason. A polite and non-committal "not sure" is sufficient. If you are asked if you know why they stopped you, any answer other than "No" may be construed as an admission to a knowing violation. Admissions as to what your speed was or the posted speed limit will be used against you if your admitted speed is higher than the posted limit, or you are mistaken about what that limit is. Never say anything about being in a hurry, or late. If you have been in an auto accident, be very careful in any explanation about what happened, as admissions will be used against you. It is better to say to little than to say to much.
Other reasons that they might have stopped youAn officer may also have pulled you over for reasons incidental to a traffic violation; for example, to determine if you are driving under the influence. They may have ran the vehicle plates and found one of the registered owners has a suspended license or has warrants. If the officer determines that they cannot cite you for a criminal violation, then you want them to cite you for your infraction if any and let you go, if that is what they are going to do. If you have been drinking you do not want to admit how much and when. Do not consent to a search of your vehicle or person. If the officer asks you to step out of your vehicle, you must cooperate, but request to speak with an attorney. You might want to find a guide written by a DUI attorney for more information.
Do not warn the officer about an attorneyOnce it is clear that this is a traffic stop, do not tell the officer that you are acting under the advice of an attorney in your non-committal answers to questions. Do not tell them "my attorney will get this thrown out." First because these statements will also find their way into the officer's report submitted to the judge with the inference that they are admissions of guilt. Second: why tell the officer in advance that you intend on having someone who is an expert at finding any errors or omissions by the officer review their work?