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How to Pull Over Safely for a Law Enforcement Officer

By Amy Chapman

It happens to most of us at some point. You’re on your way to work, stressed because you hit ‘off’ instead of ‘snooze’ on your alarm, or you’re in a hurry to get home before the babysitter’s parents come to pick her up. Suddenly you hear a siren scream and lights flash in your rear-view mirror, causing your heart to sink.

Getting pulled over by the police is a frustrating experience that seems even worse when you’re in a hurry or already upset, but when you’re dealing with law enforcement, always remain calm. Expressing frustration or anger can cause a routine traffic stop to speedily escalate into a situation that ends in your arrest.

Below is a list of recommended steps for dealing with the officer’s concerns and going on your way as soon as possible.

Turn on your flashers. This confirms that you intend to pull over. If you’re on the highway and need to find a safe place to exit traffic, the officer will know that you’re not continuing to drive with the hope of evading them.

Pull over. Once it is safe to do so, pull over to the right side of the road. Once you’ve stopped, roll down the window and turn off the engine. If it’s dark out, turn on the car’s interior lights so that the officer can see what you’re doing at all times.

Stay in the car. Do not exit your vehicle unless the officer directs you to do so. Otherwise, you may give the impression that you’re being aggressive or trying to hide something. Keep your hands on the steering wheel and your seatbelt buckled, and wait for the officer to come to the window.

Stay calm. Try not to get angry on panic, even if the traffic stop is preventing you from getting somewhere urgently. When the officer asks for your license, registration, and proof of insurance, politely acknowledge the request and retrieve the documents. If they are anywhere except in the glove compartment, tell the officer so that they don’t react when they see you reaching somewhere unexpected. After handing over the paperwork, put your hands back on the steering wheel.

Be courteous. Respond politely to all requests. The side of the road is not a place to argue over whether or not you are guilty of a traffic violation. Signing the ticket is not an admission of guilt- it simply acknowledges receipt of the ticket and that you will either pay it or dispute it in traffic court later. Refusal to sign can give the officer grounds to arrest you.

Do not volunteer information. The officer may ask questions like, “Do you know how fast you were going?” or “Do you know why I pulled you over?” Be polite, but you have a right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment, so do not admit any wrongdoing or even offer an explanation.

Do not give permission for a search. The Fourth Amendment grants you the right to privacy in your vehicle, so the officer can search the car only if you give permission or they have probable cause (i.e. an open liquor bottle on the floor or a prohibited weapon in plain sight). Even if you know that you haven’t done anything illegal, politely refuse all requests to search the car. If the officer concludes that they have probable cause to search the vehicle and detain you, be cooperative but reiterate that you do not consent to the search.

Calm down before resuming your trip.Most traffic stops are uneventful. You receive a citation and the officer goes on their way. If you’re upset, take a few minutes to calm down before driving away. If this precaution is going to make you late, call your boss or the babysitter before turning on your signal and merging back into traffic.

Contact an attorney as soon as possible. If the officer gave you a citation, contact an attorney to discuss what happened and determine how to proceed. Working with an experienced traffic ticket attorney is your best option for reducing the charges, keeping points off of your driving record, and preventing the incident from affecting your insurance rates.

Amy Chapman is a criminal defense attorney based in Santa Rosa. More information is available

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