What should I do when I get pulled over by the police?

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I know every situation is different, but are there some general rules to follow when your car is pulled over by the police during a traffic stop? I don’t want to make things worse on myself.

  1. “Sh*t.”

    -Elwood and Jake Blues, The Blues Brothers

    Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?

    Eventually, no matter how careful and law abiding you are, you’re going to get pulled over. There’s nothing quite like that horrible sinking feeling as the lights come on behind you, and you realize that they’re for you. Not for the guy in front of you or next to you, but you. The heartrate goes up, the palms get sweaty and shaky, and you start to freak out just a little. Relax. Unless you’re a wanted criminal or you’ve got the GDP of Luxembourg worth of pot in the backseat, you’re going to be okay. Let’s look at some helpful tips for when you get pulled over.

    Keep calm and carry on… to the side of the road

    1) When you see the lights and hear the siren, pull over to the right in a safe and timely manner. Use your turn signal. Slow down quickly, but not so quickly the officer will have to slam on his brakes to avoid hitting you. This will annoy him. Chances are he’s already annoyed at you, so don’t make it any worse. Pull over as far to the right as you can, so he doesn’t have to worry about getting hit by passing cars — this will be appreciated.

    2) Once you’ve stopped, now is a good time to offer the officer a few courtesies. Roll down your window all the way. Turn off your engine. You can turn on your interior light. Most importantly, once you’ve done those things, put both of your hands up on top of the steering wheel and keep them there. Don’t start rummaging through your glove box or wallet for your license and registration. Leave your hands where he can see them until he gets up to the door and asks for them — for all the officer knows, you’re reaching for a gun. If you’ve been pulled over by an unmarked car, it’s okay to ask to see ID and a badge before rolling your window down, but do keep your hands on the wheel.

    3) Don’t give them an excuse to search your car. Don’t toss your cigarette (or anything else) out the window. Don’t reach under the seat, or act like you are stuffing something out of view. Just. Sit. There.

    4) Do not, under any circumstances, get out of the car unless you are asked to do so. Otherwise, you’re just asking to have a gun pointed in your face. And any brownie points you’ve earned by following the above steps just went out the window.

    5) Don’t speak first. Don’t say “hi,” or most certainly not “what’s the trouble, officer?” Even in a friendly tone, this comes across as defensive. Let the officer start the conversation. They’ll probably start out by asking for your license and registration. Just give a simple “sure” or “okay” as a response and get them. When the inevitable “do you know why I stopped you” question comes up, your answers should be simple and non-commital. A simple “no” will suffice. Don’t plead, beg, mouth off, or be snarky. If they tell you why they pulled you over, answer with a simple “I see” or a nod, or even no answer at all. You don’t have to talk. Most importantly, do not admit or confess to anything. You know the bit from the Miranda rights, which you’ve heard on every cop show, “Anything you say can and will be used against you?” This applies even if you’re not being arrested. Hard to fight a ticket in court if you admit to the officer you were doing 75 in a 40.

    Parting thoughts

    Above all, use common sense. Don’t make sudden moves. Don’t move your hands where they can’t see them without telling them what you are doing. Don’t get lippy — you can’t be arrested for having a smart mouth, but it won’t help your case either. Don’t curse — in some states, you can be arrested for disorderly conduct for that.

    If you really, really didn’t do anything wrong and you’re getting ticketed anyway, this is not the time or place to fight it. Take the ticket and clear your calendar for the court date.

    Finally, as tempting as pulling an Elwood Blues sounds — leading the cops on a high speed chase through a shopping mall — it’s not really going to help your cause in the end… unless you like steel bracelets.

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