What to Do When You Are Pulled Over by a Police Officer

Madeleine Jones
June 14, 2019

It can be intimidating when a police officer pulls you over, especially if it’s the first time it ever happened. Although it might seem daunting at first, you don’t have to let the situation riddle you with anxiety. Understanding the safest, and respectful, ways to approach the situation removes the guesswork from the equation.

Pulling Over

Remaining aware of your surroundings should alert you to the officer who is trying to get your attention. Generally, an officer will activate their flashing lights and pull up behind a car they are pulling over. If a driver is not responding to these advances, they might flash their headlights or use a speaker system to obtain your attention.

After you notice the officer, safely pull over to the shoulder of the road. Do not attempt to speed up and quickly pull over to appease the officer – this could come off as reckless and might cause an accident. Use your turn signals, change lanes appropriately, and give the officer enough time to follow behind.

Before the Officer Approaches Your Car

You should take several steps before a police officer approaches your car:

  • Turn off your engine
  • Roll down your window
  • If dark, turn on your interior lights
  • Place your hands on the steering wheel

Notice how you haven’t reached for your identification information yet. Reaching down and pulling out items can look like you’re either hiding something or reaching for a weapon. Remain still and wait for the officer to ask for these items.

When the Officer Arrives

Pulling over does not mean you are immediately admitting guilt to anything. However, one mistake drivers often make is taking this fact to the extreme. Instead of maintaining their manners, some drivers take on an almost accusatory tone as if they are already on trial. This increases tension and removes effective communication.

As mentioned above, your hands should be at the steering wheel. When the officer asks for your personal identification information, they ask for your:

  • License
  • Car registration
  • Proof of insurance

Before outright grabbing these items, vocalize your intentions to the officer. For example, if your car’s registration card is in your glove compartment, let them know that you will be accessing your glove box. Move slowly – keep in mind the officer still doesn’t know whether or not you’re a threat.

After providing this information, the officer will explain why they pulled you over. During this conversation, remember that you retain rights that dictate what you must divulge and what you can politely decline to comment on.

Driver Rights

Saying too little or too much to an officer can cause issues. Allow the officer to communicate their reasoning for pulling you over but remain cautious. Lawyers often note that certain officers might try to convince a driver they will change their mind if the driver cooperates. This is not always the case, so exercise discrimination. Conversely, an officer who intends to give a warning might give a ticket to a rude driver simply because they have issues complying.

Even in remaining discriminatory, and with the intention of fighting your charge, remember not to argue. Simply avoid admitting fault and keep your answers concise. You should even sign the citation the officer gives you. This is not a binding admission of guilt. It states that you will either pay the fine or attend a hearing in which you can challenge the charge. Refusing to sign the citation could land you in jail.

The following rights are available to all drivers during the communication process, though they still must be exercised politely:

  • Drivers can record interactions with police officers after notifying them.
  • Drivers can refuse consent to search unless the officer can visually see illegal items in the car.
  • Drivers do not have to exit their car.
  • Drivers can refuse a breathalyzer test. However, no one would recommend doing this as serious repercussions would result in some states for refusing.

A peaceful interaction during a traffic stop by a cop falls onto both parties. Respectfully maintaining your rights is crucial in preventing arguments and leaving the situation without incriminating yourself. Remember to keep a cool, discriminatory head the next time you interact with a police officer or highway patrolman. If you’ve been pulled over and are in need of legal assistance, contact the Las Vegas injury attorneys at Cogburn Law Offices.