Tips for Traffic Stop Etiquette

downloadNo, this article is not going to be about which fork to use when you go to your mother-in-law’s house for a holiday meal. I am certainly no Miss Manners so I may not be able to offer you the best advice about table manners. As a traffic ticket attorney, however, I can tell you that I have known some clients who behave inappropriately when they get pulled over and this behavior usually costs them heavily in court. First of all, if you behave badly, the cop is less likely to let you off with just a warning and much more likely to look for other violations to add to the traffic ticket he is most assuredly going to write you. Secondly, the more obnoxious or absurd your behavior is, the more likely you and that particular traffic stop are going to become imbedded in the cop’s mind for him to recall when you appear in court. Consequently, other than remaining calm and polite there are a couple of things that you can do that may minimize the impact of the traffic stop.

When you initially realize that yes, it is YOU that the officer has targeted, check to see what speed you are traveling and then slow down to the posted speed limit. (This may be helpful information for your traffic ticket attorney if you hire one to defend your ticket in court.) Another important suggestion is to make sure that you do not try to ignore him. He is not going to go away just because you act like he is not there and it may only serve to annoy him. Casually glance over and nod in his direction or give some other indicator that you know he is there and that you intend to comply with his desire to pull you over. Use your turn signal to confirm for him that you intend to pull over. This will not only set him at ease, but it will give you the time necessary to find an area where you can pull over safely. There have been many times that I have seen drivers who are being pulled over and they often react with panic. They slam on their brakes, try to cut across lanes of traffic, and pull off on narrow shoulders in order to be compliant, not thinking about the risks that these behaviors pose to themselves, other drivers, and the police officer who is pulling them over. The number of innocent drivers and police officers who are hurt or killed every year due to this kind of reaction is startling.

Once you pull over safely, there are other things that you need to keep in mind to make sure that the traffic stop goes as smoothly as possible. Park the car well off the road, turn off the engine, and keep both of your hands on the steering wheel. We all know that the police officer is going to ask for your license and registration, but now is not the time to retrieve it. You are aware that you are just reaching into the glove compartment for these documents, but as far as the cop knows, you are a wanted felon and may be reaching for a weapon to injure him with or drugs to dispose of. Being a cop can be a hazardous job, so you don’t want to give him any more reasons to be on edge.

When you are stopped and have helped to make the officer feel more at ease, then there is the matter of how to address the police officer. You should greet him politely, but keep any other conversation to a minimum. Generally, the first thing he is going to ask you is if you know why he has pulled you over. Although you may have been driving at 90 mph or recklessly cutting off other drivers, you should always answer him with a polite, “No, sir.” It may seem rational to start apologizing or try to give an explanation for your poor driving practices, but doing so will only prove your guilt. Such a response will make it virtually impossible to successfully defend your traffic ticket. It may be difficult to hold your tongue if the police officer is in the mood to read you the riot act about how your actions endangered others, but by not doing you may just incite the officer further. Once he has completed his invective and then gives you a traffic ticket, be very careful in how you depart the scene. Make sure to thank the officer, put you seatbelt back on if you have removed it, use your turn signal to let the other drivers know of your intent to re-enter traffic, and then pull out slowly and cautiously. Squealing tires or kicking up dust as you pull away is quite likely to result in him pulling you over again.

Whether we like it or not, police officers are empowered with the right to issue speeding tickets, or any other type of traffic citation, if they feel that we have committed one or more traffic infractions. Drivers do need to remember, however, that cops also hold the power of discretion which means they can choose to let you off with a warning. The more cooperative and polite you are during a traffic stop, the greater your chances of getting just a simple warning. This is especially true if the violation for which you are stopped is slight such as just going a few miles over the speed limit. If this is the case, then this advice is especially important in helping the traffic stop to go in your favor.

 

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