What to Do If You Are Pulled Over
Whether it’s rolling through a stop sign, or getting a little heavy on the accelerator, there may come a time when you look in your rear-view mirror only to see those red and blue flashing lights behind you. In this article, we’ll try to make that stressful time a little easier by discussing some steps that you should take if you are pulled over.
Turn on Your Hazard Lights
Upon realizing that the officer is indeed there for you, the first thing that you should do is acknowledge the officer by turning on your hazard lights. This signals to the officer that you have noticed him and plan on pulling over at the first opportunity to safely do so. It also signals to other drivers that you will be slowing down, and possibly switching lanes.
Pull Over to a Safe Area
In most situations, you’ll be pulling over to the right side of the road. You’ll want to find an area with a wide shoulder so that passing traffic isn’t an issue. If a wide-shoulder isn’t available, a parking lot or side street could be a safe alternative. At night, try to find a well-lit area to help put the officer at ease. It’s important to be prompt when selecting your location, lest you let the officer think that you’re refusing to pull over.
If You’re Unsure, Dial 911 to Verify the Stop
Unfortunately, there are people out there who impersonate police officers for nefarious reasons. If you’re ever unsure about whether or not the person pulling you over is legitimate, Maryland’s Montgomery County 4th District Police Commander Laura Lanham suggests that “If someone’s behind you, and trying to stop you, and you’re not so sure they’re a police officer, call 911. Call right away, let them know where you are, and what is occurring. They will ask you for specific information, and be able to tell you if that is a legitimate law enforcement officer, behind you. Slow down, put your hazards on, head toward a lighted area, where it will be safer to stop.”
Stay In the Vehicle
Getting out of the vehicle is a big no-no, as it can be interpreted as a sign of aggression and non-compliance and put the officer on guard. The moment you begin to step out of the vehicle, the officer is likely going to order you back in anyways, so it’s best to just hang tight from the start.
Turn off the Engine, Roll Down Your Window, and Turn on the Interior Lights
Once safely pulled over, turn off the engine and place your keys on the dashboard. This signals to the officer that you have no intention of attempting a quick getaway. You’ll also want to roll down your window so that the officer can communicate with you and turn on the interior lights in the vehicle so that the officer can see that you’re not hiding anything.
Wait for the Officer to Ask for your Documents
You may think that you’re doing the officer a favor by reaching into your glovebox or wallet for your documents while he’s approaching the vehicle, but you’re not. The officer doesn’t know you and all he sees is someone who he just pulled over reaching around in the vehicle. From their perspective you could be hiding something or reaching for a weapon. Wait for the officer to request your documentation before gathering it.
Keep Your Hands in Plain Sight and Move Deliberately
The best place to keep your hands throughout the encounter is directly on the steering wheel. When the officer can clearly see your hands, they know that they are not in any immediate danger. However, if you do have to move, be sure to move slowly and deliberately.
Whether you believe that you were in the wrong or not, the side of the road is no place to litigate the matter. The officer is not going to change his mind, so why agitate them? Be polite and respectful throughout the encounter. If you plan on fighting the citation, a court room is the proper forum for arguments.
Most of all, do your best to remain calm. Being pulled over is a stressful situation, but it’s not the end of the world. No one likes to get a citation, but by following the above tips, you’ll get through the ordeal just fine.