Being pulled over at a traffic stop can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially if you’ve never been pulled over by the police before. Most of these nerves come from not knowing what to expect during the traffic stop. Fortunately, there isn’t anything to worry about during one of these routine stops but understanding the general process can help to quell those nerves.
What Causes A Person To Get Pulled Over?
For a police officer to pull over a driver they need probable cause. Under the 14th amendment of the United States Constitution, probable cause is a requirement that needs to be met by police prior to stopping a person for an arrest, search, or to receive a warrant. In most cases, probably cause occurs when there is reasonable belief a violation of law has occurred.
Police officers who are patrolling roads cannot pull a person over on a hunch or just because they see how your car looks. Police officers will only pull vehicles over on a road if they have reasonable suspicion you have committed a traffic violation, such as if they see you run a stop sign or catch you speeding on their radar gun.
In some cases, when pulled over, a police officer may be able to tell that a person is visibly intoxicated, or they smell certain smells coming from the vehicle. This would be further probable cause to conduct a field sobriety test or to conduct a search of your vehicle.
What Information Do You Need to Provide When Pulled Over?
Depending on where you are located, the information a police officer asks for when they pull you over can vary. However, the three most common items include your driver’s license, registration, and proof of auto insurance. If you refuse to show a police officer this information and refuse to tell them your name, you may be charged with driving without a license on your person or without a license at all.
State rules also vary, and some police officers from certain states may not accept digital copies of the above documents. Always carry physical copies on your person just to be safe when a police officer requests the items during a traffic stop. For some quick traffic stops for minor infractions, an officer may simply see your documents are up to date and let you off with a warning, but this is not guaranteed.
How Should You Act When Pulled Over by Law Enforcement?
When pulled over by police, the stimulation from the sirens behind you and the potential feelings of embarrassment at being pulled over can quickly bring about negative emotions such as annoyance and frustration. These emotions don’t help anyone when pulled over and shouldn’t be displayed towards the officer. When you are pulled over, there are a couple ways you should act:
- Be polite and respectful to the officer
- Remember that the officer is a human being just doing their job
- Roll your window down and keep both of your hands visible, ideally on the wheel
- Tell the officer when and where you will be reaching for certain documents
- Obey any commands the officer gives you – you will have time to ask questions later
- Don’t argue a traffic ticket – it’s not the place or the time
What Does A Traffic Ticket Tell You?
Assuming a police officer decides to issue you a citation instead of letting you off with a warning, you will be given a citation and asked to sign to indicate you received it. This signature is not an admission of guilt for what the police officer is citing you for. This written document will list what you did wrong, such as a specific speed you were traveling at or if you ran a stop sign.
Additionally, a traffic ticket will tell a person what they need to do in order to address the charge. In most cases, unless the ticket is for a bookable offense, the ticket will list a court date in the future that the person charged with the infraction can show up to defend themselves. Alternatively, in most cases, that person can pay a fine and their obligation will be complete.
Some traffic tickets may also list the amount of points that will be added to your license if you choose to accept the charge for the infraction.
The Do’s And Don’ts Of A Traffic Stop
While receiving a ticket for your driving on the road may be frustrating, it’s important to always treat police officers with respect. To that end, here are a number of do’s and don’ts for when you find yourself being pulled over by the police:
- Do turn on your blinker immediately to indicate you are aware of their presence and looking for a safe spot to pull over
- Do keep your hands visible at all times, ideally on the steering wheel
- Do speak politely with the officer and treat them with respect
- Do turn down the radio
- Do hand over all documentation right away when requested
- Don’t make sudden movements that could startle the officer
- Don’t get out of your car unless ordered by the police officer
- Don’t attempt to bribe a police officer
- Don’t refuse to sign a ticket
- Don’t start searching for your license, registration, or insurance until it is asked for by the officer
- Don’t resist a search – it isn’t the time or place
In major states, speeding tickets can be up to $500, varying depending on the speed you are going. Other common infractions carry similar fees. While being nice doesn’t stop you from getting such a ticket, having a good attitude and a positive driving record may cause a police officer to be far more incline to let you off with a stern warning as opposed to a ticket.
The Basics Of A Traffic Stop
Being pulled over is a frustrating experience but try to remember that the officer is simply doing their job. Don’t take out your frustration on the officer as it will unnecessarily raise tensions in the situation. Be as polite as possible and obey all orders from the officer(s) to ensure that the stop goes as smoothly as possible.