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How to Handle a Traffic Stop

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What Should I Do If I Am Stopped by a Police Officer?

Ask anyone who operates a motor vehicle whether they or someone they know has been stopped for a traffic violation and the chances are pretty good that they will say they have. The reality is that traffic stops are relatively common on public roadways, and most drivers will be subject to them at one point or another.  

If you are stopped by a police officer for a traffic violation, keep in mind the following tips to increase your chances of avoiding a citation and to make the traffic stop a less stressful experience:

  • Slow down and safely pull over as soon as possible, or you may be accused of evading the police officer
  • Remain calm. Keep in mind that it is possible to have committed a minor traffic violation unwittingly, or the officer may wish to alert the driver to problem with their vehicle. 
  • Turn off the engine
  • Keep both hands clearly in sight on the steering wheel
  • Do not exit the vehicle unless instructed by the officer to do so
  • Be courteous and non-confrontational.
  • Comply with the officer's request to:
    • See a driver's license
    • Registration
    • Proof of insurance
  • Remain polite
  • Do not volunteer information. If the officer continues to question the driver, they should ask:
    • Am I under arrest?
    • Am I free to leave?
    • Ask to speak to a lawyer, and then say it is their wish to not answer any questions until they have
  • Sign tickets. This is almost always not an admission of guilt, but merely acknowledging receipt of the ticket.
  • Ask for the officer's name and badge number.

What Should I Do If the Police Car Is Unmarked?

Many police departments use both marked and umarked patrol cars for conducting traffic stops. In some cases, however, the driver of the unmarked vehicle attempting to pull you over could be someone pretending to be a cop for the purpose of carrying out an illegal activity. Impersonating a police officer is illegal, but it does happen. Thus, it is best practice to: 

  • Turn on four-way hazard lights to notify the officer the driver will pull over
  • Call 911 and ask the dispatcher to verify that it is an actual police officer. This may be done by verifying a vehicle description and location
  • With your hazard lights turned on, drive to the nearest well-lit and populated area
  • If the unmarked vehicle is operated by an officer wearing plain clothes, request that a uniformed officer respond to the scene.

Do I Need a Lawyer for My Traffic Violation?

Depending on the circumstances of the stop and the kind of traffic violation you are cited with, you may wish to fight your traffic ticket in court. You should speak with a criminal defense attorney immediately to learn more about your rights and to determine what defenses may be available. Remember, you are to be treated with dignity and respect by the police officer, and should only be cited for infractions that actually may have been committed. If you believe that you have been treated unfairly, you need to present your case in court.

Photo of page author Matthew Izzi

, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 05-22-2018 07:35 PM PDT

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