What Should You Do if You Get Pulled Over by a Police Officer?

There are red and blue flashing lights in your rear-view mirror. You are being pulled over by the police. What should you do?

Pull over

Safely and carefully, pull over to the right side of the road. Try to find a place that is safe for both you and the officer. If no place is immediately available, turn on your hazard lights so the officer knows that you are trying to find a safe place to stop. Use your blinker to indicate that you are pulling over. Once you have stopped, roll down your window and turn off the engine.

Remain calm

Try not to panic or get angry. Sure, this is not going to be fun, but don’t make it worse than it has to be. Keep your seatbelt on, keep your hands on the steering wheel and wait for the officer to come to your window. Do not start searching for your license, insurance or registration until the officer asks for it. You do not want to give the officer any reason to think you are a threat. Once the officer approaches you and asks you to show him your license, registration, and proof of insurance, let the officer know if you need to reach into the glove compartment or anywhere else in order to retrieve your documents.

Stay in your car

Getting out of your car can give the officer the impression that you have something to hide in the car, or that you are a threat to his safety. Do not get out of your car unless the officer directs you to do so.

Do not give permission for a search

Under the Fourth Amendment, you have a right to privacy in your vehicle. An officer can only search your car under certain circumstances, or if you give him permission to. Avoid giving the officer permission, even if you believe you have nothing to hide. If the officer asks to search your car, you should politely answer “no.”

Be polite when talking to the officer

Let the officer start talking. If he asks you for your documents, politely respond with “okay” or “sure”, then hand over the documents. It is in your interest to be courteous throughout the interaction. You do not want to give the officer a reason to add charges to your citation, to show up in court to testify, or to refuse to give you a break if you take the case to court.

Do not volunteer any additional information

You are required to show the officer your license, registration, and proof of insurance. However, you are not required to give the officer any more information. The officer may ask you incriminating questions like, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” “Do you know how fast you were going?” “Did you see the pedestrian in the crosswalk?” Keep your answers short and do not admit any wrongdoing. You have a Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate yourself. Do not volunteer any additional information or explanation, even if you think it might help.

Don’t argue, don’t get mad, don’t give attitude

The side of the road is not the place to argue over whether or not you committed a traffic violation. You have the right to dispute the ticket in traffic court. Sign the ticket – it’s not an admission of guilt, it just means that you acknowledge that you got the ticket and that you promise to either pay it or contest it in court by the designated date. If you do not sign the ticket, the officer has grounds to arrest you.

Be careful when merging back into traffic

It may be a good idea to take the time to put your documents away and collect yourself before driving away. When you’re ready, put your signal on and carefully merge back into traffic.

Take action on your citation

Don’t forget to take action on the citation by the deadline the officer has written on the bottom of the citation. Do not wait for a courtesy notice. If you miss the due date, you may have to pay hundreds of dollars more for an added civil assessment fine. You have several options after getting a citation: you can admit guilt and pay the fine, go to traffic school if you are eligible and pay the fine, or fight the ticket in court. If you decide to fight the ticket, you may want to consult with an attorney to discuss your case.