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Most interactions between law enforcement and the public take place during “routine” traffic stops. The truth is, no stop is ever routine. A traffic stop can be stressful and dangerous for both the motorist and the police officer. According to the FBI, in 2012, 4,450 officers were wounded or otherwise assaulted during stops. The media has also been ablaze in recent years with reports, often accompanied by shocking video footage, of shootings by officers of drivers who were complying with the police and doing nothing wrong!
To minimize the risk to yourself and ensure the officer doesn’t feel that he or she is in any danger, you should be aware of how to act properly during a traffic stop. Traffic stops (also known as “Terry” stops) are brief detentions of a motorist based on an officer’s reasonable suspicion that a traffic offense has taken place. Take note of the following pieces of advice:
1. Slow down and pull over as soon as it is safe – If on the highway or an area with a wide shoulder, activate your turn signal and pull over to the side of the road. If there is heavy traffic or not enough room, find a nearby parking lot. Be sure to use your turn indicator to let the officer know your intentions.
2. Prepare for your interaction with the officer – Turn off the radio, put out any lit cigarette, and remove your hat or sunglasses. Roll down the driver-side window. You should locate your license and any proof of insurance and have it ready for the officer when he or she approaches. If you are licensed to carry a concealed weapon, get out your concealed carry license as well. Keep your hands visible and do not touch your weapon. Tell the officer promptly that you have a permit and that you are carrying a weapon. Let them know where it is if he or she asks.
3. Don’t make any sudden movements – Any movement such as reaching under the seat or to the back of the vehicle might be interpreted as if you’re hiding something or reaching for a weapon. If your license isn’t immediately accessible (such as in your purse in the backseat), tell the officer where it is and ask if he or she wants you to grab it. Keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times unless directed otherwise.
4. Don’t argue or verbally abuse the officer – Whether or not you think the traffic stop was justified, arguing at this point will not help you reach a positive outcome. You can always fight a ticket later on, but fighting with the officer can lead to criminal charges.
5. Be truthful but don’t volunteer information – Never lie to the officer but you’re also not required to divulge any information besides producing your driver’s license and proof of insurance. If asked why you think you were stopped do not admit to a traffic offense.
6. If you are asked to step out of the car, comply – Again, whether or not you think you did something wrong, this is not the time to plead your case. If an officer commands you to exit the vehicle, comply with their directions.
7. Don’t perform any tests – If you’re suspected of driving under the influence, the officer may ask you to perform a series of tests such as standing on one leg or walking a straight line. You will also have your breath, blood, or urine tested for alcohol or other substances. The results of these tests are later used as evidence against you if you are charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Although refusing the tests will carry an additional license suspension, the penalties for OVI are severe and can carry consequences that follow you for many years.
8. Don’t consent to any searches – You have a right to refuse a search of your vehicle if the officer asks to “look around.” He or she might threaten to bring a drug dog or imply you must be guilty if you don’t want your car searched. Remain polite and state “I do not consent to any searches of my vehicle.”
9. End the stop politely – Sign the ticket when asked (it is not an admission of guilt). Do not tear up up crumple the ticket to show your dissatisfaction. The officer will tell you your court date if the ticket cannot be waived by payment. Do not make any remarks or insults to the officer as he or she walks away. Drive away carefully, ensuring traffic is clear when you pull back onto the roadway.
By following this guide you can make a traffic stop a safer encounter for both you and the investigating officer, even if you might still end up with a traffic ticket.