Guest Post by: Sladen West
If you regularly drive a car, then it’s likely that you will, at some point, get pulled over by a police officer. Even if you never break any laws, are always sure to drive defensively, and have all of your tabs up to date, you may still be pulled over for other reasons. When that happens, you’ll want to know what to do. Here are five steps you should take whenever you see the flashing lights appear in your rearview mirror.
1. Pull over someplace safe
Contrary to popular belief, your highest priority when being pulled over isn’t to come up with some way to get out of the ticket; it’s to make sure that the whole business is handled safely. If there is enough room on the side of the road, then immediately begin to pull over to the right. Use your turn signal so that the office knows what your intentions are. If there isn’t a good place to pull over, then turn on your hazard lights and continue driving until you find one (be sure to take the first safe place, otherwise the officer might think that you’re trying to hide something). If you’re on the freeway, consider taking the next exit and pulling over once you’re free of the fast moving traffic. Be sure that you pull far enough over that the officer isn’t in risk of being hit by passing cars.
2. Turn off the engine, keep you hands on the steering wheel
Sadly, many officers are killed every year during routine traffic stops. So, make sure that you put the officer’s mind at ease. Once the car is pulled far enough over, roll down your window, turn off the engine, and keep your hands on the steering wheel. If it’s dark outside, then turn on an interior light (otherwise, you might get a flashlight beam in your face). Don’t retrieve any documents until they are requested, as shuffling through your glove box before the officer approaches can make it look like you’re hiding something, or even retrieving a weapon.
3. Be respectful and deliberate
For many people, their instinctual reaction when faced with a possible ticket is to lash out. There aren’t enough words in the English language to adequately describe how wrong this is. Yelling at an officer who regularly risks his life to protect yours isn’t going to make him want to let you off with a warning. Keep your voice level, refrain from accusations, and remember your manners. If you’re not sure why you were pulled over, then wait for the officer to tell you. If he doesn’t, then respectfully inquire. It might be that one of your tail lights is out, and he’s just letting you know so that you can go get it fixed. Once the officer does ask for your information, move slowly and deliberately to retrieve your paperwork. Sudden movements can make officer’s nervous, and if they feel threatened they are authorized to respond with physical force. If you have a gun or other weapon in the car, be sure to inform the officer in a nonthreatening way. Tell him where it is, so that he can know that you’re not trying to get to it. If an officer asks to search your vehicle, you have the right to decline. Ask the officer what laws he thinks you might have violated, and if you need to, ask to speak with an attorney. The police need either probable cause or a warrant before they can search your vehicle. If the officer asks you to step out of the car, comply, but ask if you are being arrested, and on what grounds.
4. Don’t try to get out of the ticket
There are many things people say you can do to get out of a ticket: crying, showing an Eagle Scout card, flattering the officer—and they don’t work. In fact, an officer who feels that he is being manipulated may be far more likely to issue a citation than normal. But, there is one thing you can do. You can be honest. If you were speeding and you know it, then admit to it and take your punishment like a grown up. If it was an accident, then apologize. If you have a good driving record, some officers will decide that this time really was a fluke and send you on your way without giving you a ticket. However, if you do get one, don’t argue the point. There are places where you can contest a ticket if you feel that it’s been given unfairly, and those places are called courtrooms. When the ticket is given, sign it. Signing is not an admission of guilt, just verification that the citation has been received.
5. Be safe afterward
Once the officer has returned your information and told you that you’re free to go, replace your paperwork and take your time getting everything ready. Allow the officer enough time to return to his vehicle before you turn your engine back on, so you don’t blast him with exhaust or hit him with gravel when you pull back out. Wait for an opening in traffic, and signal to the other motorists as you merge back onto the road. Don’t speed off, because if you do you’re just going to find the same flashing lights in your mirror.