Do You Know Why I Stopped You? How to Respond When Pulled Over by Police

pulled over by police

Police officers issue nearly 41 million speeding tickets each year in the U.S.

As common as they are, traffic violations can be an intimidating experience!

No one likes getting pulled over by police. But what happens when those flashing lights appear in your rearview mirror?

The first thing to do is to stay calm. Then keep these tips in mind for following appropriate protocol.

1. Pull Over Safely

If a police car appears behind you with flashing lights, it’s important to pull your vehicle over as soon as possible. Come to a complete and safe stop on the right side of the road and turn off your engine.

Be mindful of other vehicles and pedestrians, too. It’s important not to create another traffic hazard simply by pulling over for the police car behind you.

Use your turn signal to indicate the proper driving protocol, if necessary. You may wish to turn your car hazards on while parked, too. Be sure to park close to the curb so that the officer can safely approach your vehicle.

You may be nervous about pulling over. Doesn’t this basically tell the police officer that you’re guilty?

Not necessarily. Responding quickly is simply an indication of a good driver highly aware of their surroundings. Plus, plenty of people get pulled over without quite knowing the officer’s motive.

2. Roll Down Your Window Fully

This is really important, especially if you are pulled over at nighttime. Police officers have to be wary when approaching vehicles. Many have been shot in traffic stop situations.

Roll down your window all the way. This shows that you’re willing to be transparent and respectful throughout this process.

Keep both hands on your steering wheel, too. This will tell the officer that you have nothing to hide.

If it’s dark out, turn off your headlights. You don’t want to blind or upset the officer! You may want to turn on your vehicle’s interior light if it’s evening time, just so that you both can see each other fully.

Do not get out of your car unless requested. 

Move slowly if you can, and don’t reach for your insurance or registration just yet. Doing so can signal furtive behavior, which could compel a search of your car. In general, traffic stops don’t permit an officer to search your car.

However, if they can see something suspicious “in plain view,” or if you act furtively, they can ask to search your vehicle. You can refuse this in some cases. In others, you cannot.

3. Be Calm and Respectful

Your heart may be racing by this point. You may be feeling angry, irritated, or stressed. Whatever the case, however, be calm as you interact with the police officer.

Acting defensive or combative will only complicate the conversation. It could even lead to a case of disorderly conduct or contempt of an officer, both of which can result in an arrest.

Besides, being calm and respectful could put you at an advantage. Getting pulled over doesn’t automatically translate to a ticket. Some officers, for example, may issue a one-time warning without a violation fee.

Once you’ve respectfully greeted the officer, let him or her do the talking. The first thing an officer will likely say after pulling you over is, “Please show me your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and insurance information.”

Most drivers have this in their glovebox. If you do, retrieve this information as requested. If you don’t have any of these items, let the officer know. Don’t be defensive.

Police can locate your registration details digitally. They often do this by inputting your vehicle’s license plate number.

4. Speak Only After Questions

To reduce the risk of incriminating information, only speak when asked. Keep your responses very, very simple. You can even respond with silence if need be.

Resist the impulse to plead with the officer or defend your behavior. You may want to say, “I’m so sorry, officer–I know I was speeding, but I never usually do!”

If you’ve been drinking and driving, don’t claim that you have been doing so.

This can translate to an admission of guilt. In most cases, this can influence the result of your interaction, especially if you’ve been drinking.

It’s also common for officers to ask, “Do you know why I pulled you over just now?”

If the officer asks you this, say, “No.” Once again, this avoids any admission of guilt. 

The officer will explain her reasoning for pulling you over. Throughout this explanation, feel free to remain silent or interject phrases like, “I understand.” 

She may also ask if you have any questions. If you do, ask them, but keep them simple and neutral. 

5. Don’t Fight Any Charges

In some traffic stops, there may not be a penalty. If there is, though, don’t argue with the officer’s decision. 

You may be tempted to do this, especially if the fine is exorbitant. Once again, doing so could result in a higher penalty or an instance of disorderly conduct.

You can ask questions about the charges, however. You may want to ask about a deadline for a fee, for example. Keep your questions specific.

6. Exit Your Car if Asked to Do So

If the officer asks that you exit your car, you should do so. If you remain in your car, this could look like suspicious activity.

Once you’ve exited your vehicle, an officer does have a right to pat you down in certain cases. He or she also can seize anything that feels like a weapon or a contraband item.

Of course, in some cases, searches are unwarranted. If you feel as if you’ve been wrongly approached for a traffic violation, you may need to hire an attorney.

Final Thoughts: When You’re Pulled Over By Police

Getting pulled over by police can be stressful, no matter the situation. Nonetheless, staying calm and cooperative can make the process far less painful.

It may even reduce your penalty!

Remember: police officers are there to do their job, which is to ensure general public safety. They probably don’t like issuing tickets just as much as you like receiving them.

What can you do to avoid a speeding ticket? Read our tips here.