The million dollar question: what to do if you get pulled over. Getting pulled over can be an incredibly stressful experience. And while police officers are employed to help keep you and all the people around you safe, they can still be super intimidating—we blame the uniform and the fact that they carry a gun. So what do you do when you get pulled over? Well, first of all, pull over. It seems like a no-brainer, but if a cop flashes his lights indicating that you did something wrong, respond quickly by moving to the side of the road. According to Sgt. Andy Breidenich, public information officer with the Troy, Mich. Police Department, you should stop as soon as it is safe to do so. “Don’t let the officer initiate a pursuit; they may think you’re trying to evade arrest and that’s really bad.”
Some people argue that long before a traffic cop leaves his vehicle he has already decided if you will be given a ticket or just a warning. While we’re not sure if there’s any truth to this, we do know that smart and respectful behavior when you are pulled over can go a long way to ensuring your safety. So when you’re in the heat of the moment, behind the wheel with a cop approaching you, what should you do? Let’s start with what NOT to do, since it seems like these no-no’s are pretty darn important to avoid. Here is what to do if you get pulled over.
Don’t speak first It can be tempting to ask a cop “what’s the problem officer?” as soon as you roll down your window, but try to keep your mouth shut until the police officer speaks to you first. An officer will be reading into everything you say, and he is in no way obliged to tell you why he pulled you over until you comply with his rules, so stay quiet until you are spoken to, and then respond appropriately.
Don’t curse On the note of speaking, when you do open your mouth, make sure you do not curse, which will imply anger and frustration, 2 emotions you don’t really want a cop associating with you and your driving.
Read Related: Why is My Child Afraid of the Police?
Don’t get out of the car unless asked Unless a cop asks you to step out of the vehicle, never leave your car. Getting out might lead an officer to believe you are being aggressive or are a threat to them. That said, if a policeman does ask you to step out of the car, you should do so. “Officers often ask people to “step out of the car” as a safety precaution—to make sure the driver doesn’t have any concealed weapons,” so if they ask, “it’s probably best to get out of the car to avoid a tense situation.”
Tell your passengers to pipe down There should only be one voice in the car, and that voice should be yours if you are driving. If your friends are in the back seat tell them to pipe down while you handle the situation and speak to the police officer calmly. If your kids are in the car it’s a little harder to achieve silence, but you can assure them that everything is fine and ask them to be quite for a few minutes while you talk to the policeman.
Do not play loud music Similarly, if your music was on, turn it down immediately. You need to not only show respect for the situation and the law enforcement officer you are speaking to, but you also need to be able to hear each other.
Don’t reach for something in your bag As a cop approaches your car he is watching your every move, not only to assess your situation and potential guilt, but also to determine his own safety. If you abruptly reach for something in your bag (even if it’s a piece of gum) the cop will assume the worst and may assume you’re looking for a weapon. Do not reach for anything in your bag or glove compartment unless the cop asks you to retrieve your license and registration.
Don’t be disrespectful In life you should always treat others the way you would like to be treated. And that is especially true when it comes to interacting with police officers. Remember they are people too, and as with all authority figures, you need to treat them with respect and common courtesies.
Don’t argue with the police officer Don’t be aggressive or unnecessarily argumentative with a police officer. It won’t help the situation and it certainly won’t solve anything. Answer questions with simple, to-the-point responses and do as you are asked, within reason. The faster the police officer has the information he or she needs, the faster you can be on your way.
Don’t forget your rights Last but not least, never forget your rights as a driver and a citizen. In this day and age when not all police officers follow the rules and use appropriate behaviors when dealing with suspects/perpetrators/innocent bystanders, it’s crucial that you know your legal rights so that you are not taken advantage of at a traffic stop, or any encounter with a law enforcer.