Most people do not interact with the police except when being stopped for a traffic violation. Obviously, the best bet for avoiding any trouble with the authorities is to simply obey all of the traffic laws.—HG.org
This has been quite a year as a record number of clashes between law enforcement and unarmed motorists have resulted in injury or death to ordinary citizens who made the mistake of pissing off the police. The Sandra Bland case is the latest in a string of simple traffic stops gone horribly wrong. According to automotive writer Eric Peters, the likelihood that motorists will be pulled over for a traffic violation has increased as cash strapped state and local governments rely on police officers for strict enforcement of traffic laws to bring in additional revenue. Whether being pulled over on a highway or a city street, you will want to increase your chances of coming away unscathed, with just a ticket or a warning.
You wouldn’t get into a cage with a roaring lion and expect it not to act like a lion. Likewise, you shouldn’t get into a confrontation with an aggressive cop and expect it not to go badly for you. This does not in any way suggest that all law enforcement officers behave aggressively during traffic stops; neither should being stopped cause you to become confrontational. It’s likely the officer will take his cue from you. Take notice if he’s already in a bad mood and try not to agitate him any further.
You might be nervous about what’s going to happen when you get pulled over, but remember that officers are the ones who have every right to be nervous. They never know what to expect. Generally, the more you do to help ensure the officer’s safety, the more you ensure your own.
Knowing what you can legally do to protect your legal rights and safety during a traffic stop will help you cope better than if you don’t know. In the past, I’ve been involved in traffic stops, and one or two that I clearly recall as scary bad. Fortunately, I didn’t let the officers’ unprofessional behavior cause me to do anything that would have resulted in my being arrested or given points. A couple of the tickets that I received were thrown out after I challenged them in court and won. From several articles posted online about the do’s and don’ts of handling a traffic stop, I came up with seven key things that are critical to making sure you have the best outcome possible.
Start out by doing the right thing…
- Your driver’s license and car registration, don’t leave home without them. If you know you may be driving make sure you have a valid and current driver’s licence with you. Not having these items is not only against the law, but will give the officer more reason to probe further and probably detain you. Make sure you have the registration for the vehicle, even if its not your car. Ask the owner to give you a signed and dated letter with contact information stating you have permission to be in possession of the vehicle.
- Always obey the law. Doing things that will attract the attention of law enforcement like speeding, running a red light, making improper turns, driving recklessly or drunk, etc is asking for trouble. It’s the job of law enforcement to keep our streets and highways safe for everybody. So if you’re endangering the public or yourself, you will be stopped, maybe even arrested. So when you’re pulled over, don’t make things worse by being uncooperative or combative.
Reacting to being pulled over…
- Keep calm and don’t panic. Most experts suggest putting on your right turn signal to the let the officer know that you intend to move to the far right lane. Slow down and look for a well lit (at night) and safe area to pull off the road, making sure the traffic stop can be observed by passing motorists or foot traffic. Turn the car engine off and remain in the car. Your window should be open enough to allow conversation with the officer. Opinions vary on how much to open it. Place your hands in view atop your steering wheel and wait for the officer to approach you.
- Wait for the officer to speak. Remember everything you say can be used against you in court. The article, How to react when the police pull you over. has a scripted dialogue on how to respond to typical questions from an officer. Keep your tone polite and respectful at all times.
The officer might start by asking you the sort of question whose lack of a definite answer would imply guilt, like, “Do you know why I stopped you?” Or, he or she might ask, “Do you know how fast you were going?” Your answers, if any, should be non-committal and brief, like a simple “No” to the first question or a very confident, “Yes, I do,” to the second. —NOLO
- Know your rights. Knowing your rights can keep the officer from bullying you, and keep you from saying or doing something you’ll regret later. How to Behave During A Traffic Stop provides a clear explanation of what your rights are if you’re stopped, and later arrested. Too often, minorities are victims of illegal stops and searches because they don’t know what rights they have under the law.
Whether or not Sandra Bland was mirandized during her arrest, and later offered her right to see an attorney while jailed is one of many yet-to-be answered questions.
- Consenting to a search of your vehicle without probable cause. An officer must have probable cause for the search, like smelling alcohol or drugs on you, seeing an open container or weapon in the vehicle or witnessing suspicious activity taking place inside the car. And he must tell why he is searching the vehicle. You can also ask the officer for the record, “What is the probable cause for your search?” This video reenactment suggests there is a right way to respond to a search request during a traffic stop.
- Don’t resist to the point of escalating the situation. If the officer does something that you know is a violation of your legal rights, there may be little you can do about it other than objecting in a calm voice for the benefit of any cameras or recording devices present. Later, you can consult with an attorney for legal redress of your grievances. The objective is to live to fight another day, not die beside the highway or on the street in a hail of bullets on a trumped up charge of resisting arrest.
He was treated harshly, but endured it humbly; he never said a word. Like a lamb about to be slaughtered, like a sheep about to be sheared, he never said a word.—Isaiah 53:7 GNT