This may seem familiar: You’re driving along, perhaps a bit too quickly, and you see that ominous flash of red and blue in your rearview mirror. A feeling of dread overcomes you. Perhaps you know you’re going to have to pay a hefty fine or (hopefully not) worse. Maybe police officers make you nervous. Either way, your mind scrambles to think of what you’re supposed to say, not say, do and not do. Have you been in this situation before?
While I’d like to believe that you are all perfectly safe drivers who never violate any traffic laws or break the speed limits, the truth is that even good drivers make mistakes and get pulled over. Police are here to protect and serve, but some of you may get nervous trying to figure out proper traffic stop etiquette. That’s okay—it’s perfectly natural to want to make sure you’re doing the right thing to keep yourself out of trouble. As with many situations, knowledge is your friend when it comes to traffic stop safety. Here are some quick tips to keep things pleasant and safe between you, your passengers and the officer.
- Stay Calm, Stay Polite – This may be difficult, as you may be stressed from the moment you see the lights, but it’s nonetheless extremely important. Each person has different ways of calming down, so find your Zen activity—take a deep breath, close your eyes (after you’re pulled over and stopped, of course), think happy thoughts, or whatever helps. Just make sure you’re not raving, angry, outraged, and so forth when that officer comes to your window, or things can escalate quickly.
- Look for a Safe Spot – From the moment you see the flashers, you should turn on your hazard lights to let the officer know you are aware of the situation and are looking for a safe place to pull over. Then, slow down and calmly pull to an area far enough off from traffic to keep you and the officer out of harm’s way. When stopped, turn off the vehicle.
- Don’t Reach – Police officers face tense situations fairly often. They are trained to stay on high alert to recognize when they may be in danger. Do your part in keeping the officer at ease by keeping your hands visible (on the steering wheel is a good spot) until he or she reaches your window. Do not try to save time by reaching for your license and registration before then, as this could look like you’re reaching for a weapon. If you have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, calmly inform the officer that you have a legal weapon right away, and do not reach for anything while doing so. The officer does not have to hold your weapon during the stop, so it’s best to leave it where it is.
- Ask, but Don’t Argue – Let the officer speak first to get things off on the right foot. You have the right to ask why you were pulled over (and it’s a good idea to do so), but do not interrupt or use a confrontational or arrogant tone. This is not the place to fight a potential ticket. If you are cited for a violation, politely sign it, as you can fight it legally or file any complaints later. Your attitude during the stop may have implications later if the officer is asked to testify or give a statement for the court.
When the officer is finished, pull away carefully. This is not an exhaustive list, but these four tips can make a big difference between a quick stop on the side of the road and a dangerously escalated situation. Again, be sure any passengers in the vehicle follow these same tips during the stop, even if you have to verbally guide them through it. Have a safe time on the roads, everyone, and watch those speed limits.
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