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when the police pull you over

what to do and how to handle it

Getting pulled over by the police can be a nerve-wracking experience. We'll help you understand what you should and shouldn't do when you spot the approaching lights or hear the siren's wail.

When you first notice flashing police lights

Whether or not the police officer is pulling you over, your first move is to get to the side of the road as soon as it's safe. If the police cruiser pulls in behind you:

Do

police
  • Turn off your engine and roll down your window as far as it'll go. Keep your hands on the wheel and clearly visible to the officer.
  • Turn on your emergency flashers or hazard lights when you park.
  • Address the police officer as "officer."
  • Turn on your car's interior lights if it's nighttime or visibility is low.

Don't

  • Panic. Many stops are for common traffic violations or fix-it tickets for things like broken taillights and overly tinted windows. Remember that the police are doing their best to ensure your own safety.
  • Automatically remove your seat belt. This could lead to a click-it ticket. Better to wait until the officer sees you take it off before reaching into the glove box for your documents.
  • Try to outrun the police. This is obvious, but worth listing. What could have been a minor speeding ticket would turn into a more serious charge (like evading the police) with longer-lasting insurance implications.

When you're face-to-face with a police officer

Keep in mind that the police officer may be wary of you while approaching the car. Not all drivers are as courteous as you, so do your best to let the officer know you're ready, willing, and able to cooperate.

Do

  • Stay calm and seated (this goes for your passengers too). Unless the officer requests otherwise, there's no need to get out of your car.
  • Hand over your important documents on request (license, registration, and, in some cases, proof of insurance).
  • Ask questions. If you're given a citation, make sure you understand the charges. If you're unsure, ask the officer to explain.
  • Answer the officer's questions honestly. Maintain eye contact and be civil, polite, and to the point. (It's worth noting that you do have the legal right to remain silent.)
  • If you're asked to sign a traffic ticket, you may be legally required to do so. You can still contest the ticket in court or by mail. Signing is not an admission of guilt.

Don't

  • Put yourself at risk. If it's late at night and you're uncomfortable or if the officer is in plainclothes, ask for ID. You can also request to follow the officer to a police station or a well-lit area.
  • Reach for your license, registration, or any other item until the officer asks you to. To an officer approaching your car, sudden hand movements can be perceived as a threat (not a good thing).
  • Argue. A smile and a positive attitude will make the incident go smoothly. If you disagree with the citation or the officer's actions, you can file a complaint later.
  • Speak first. Let the officer state the reason for pulling you over.
  • Forget to focus. Listen carefully to what the officer is saying and memorize or jot down the officer's name in case you need it later.

Your driving record and what you pay for car insurance

Not all violations and infractions appear on your driving record. If you're given a citation that does affect your record, it could show up there within a few weeks or it could take months, depending on where you live.

And depending on your state's rules, you may be able to keep some minor moving violations off your record by paying a simple fine. Some states also allow drivers to have certain charges erased from their record or reduced by attending traffic school or following a court-mandated program.

If you're happily insured, there's no need to contact your insurer about a new violation. Your insurer will learn of any new moving violations when your policy's up for renewal or the next time your driving record is reviewed (whichever comes first). But if you're shopping for a new policy, you could end up paying more if you don't disclose a violation up-front.

Related links

Right-of-way laws
Read up on how to handle many common right-of-way situations, including some specifics of right-of-way laws (and their penalties).

Driving laws by state
Find out how certain moving violations can affect driving records in your neck of the woods.