Monday, January 4, 2016

Getting Pulled Over

I don't routinely respond to comments on my blog posts. I feel that space belongs to my readers (both of them) to respond to me or to each other as they wish, without me getting involved. But I was recently asked, and have been asked many times before, the correct "protocol" for a driver being pulled over by a police officer.

First, it's not set in stone. Different law enforcement agencies have different routines. Some I agree with, some I don't. Also, drivers do a lot of different things because they're nervous, and most of the time I don't care. But in general, this is what I like to see.

1. When the lights and/or siren come on, pull over to the right and stop. The officer has decided this is where the stop is to take place, and it's up to the driver to comply. Pulling into a driveway or a parking lot is OK, provided it's your driveway or the parking lot is right there. Don't just drive along until you find a place you're comfortable with. That's a red flag for officers, wondering why this person isn't stopping right away.

2. Stay in your car, unless the officer directs you to do otherwise. Now, I understand some agencies routinely have drivers exit and come back to them. But no one on my agency does that, and I would never let that happen. If the person exits with a weapon, you're a sitting duck closed up inside your squad car.

3. I don't really care whether the driver already has their license and proof of insurance ready when I walk up there (I never ask for registration - that info is on my computer when I run the plate). In fact, I love it when people just leave their hands on the steering wheel until I get up there. If they don't already have their documentation in hand, I just ask for it. What I don't like to see is a bunch of bending and reaching as I'm approaching - especially into center consoles or glove boxes - because I don't know what they're reaching for.

4. If you have a concealed carry permit and are carrying a handgun (or have it in the center console or glove box), by all means keep your hands on the steering wheel and advise the officer of those circumstances. Then, follow their instructions. By no means do you want to be going for your insurance card in the glove box, and have your .45 slide out. That tends to alarm cops.

4. Be polite. I always said that I'm as nice to people as they allow me to be. I understand you don't want to get a ticket. But my job is to enforce laws, and that includes traffic laws. If I have any discretion in writing the citation, I'm way more likely to exercise that if you're decent with me. If you're going to be like the lady I once stopped for 15 over in an active school zone, who told me "Just write the motherfucking ticket", you can bet I will do just that.

5. Take the citation to court if you feel you've been unfairly ticketed. You always have that option, and I always encouraged people I stopped who were unhappy with me to register for court. But remember that a violation is almost certainly on dashcam and/or bodycam video. I was always very lenient in writing tickets, so the violations I did cite were pretty obvious. I never lost a court case.

Remember: this is just me.It isn't intended as anything other than personal advice. Other cops and other agencies have their own routines. Theirs may be better or worse than mine, but I'm still alive and kicking after thousands of traffic stops.


Heidi said...

This is helpful. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

Jono said...

Your other reader says thanks.

Anonymous said...

Question from your third reader(and I know my wife reads you, so she's the fourth): Once the officer has come up to my car window, sees that my hands are clearly in sight, with my license out, is it okay to ask if I can unbuckle my seat belt to get my insurance card from my glove compartment, where I keep it, along with all other auto related paperwork?
Being overweight, I have difficulty reaching the glove compartment with the belt on, but I don't want to get an added ticket for not wearing the seatbelt. I got tagged on that a few years back; the officer wanted to see the card, but didn't want me to unfasten the seat belt. When I did so, he wrote me up for that and the speeding that I was doing.

Anonymous said...

Thank-you for giving us your words of wisdom on this issue. I have very few encounters with the Men in Blue, but when I do I want to know what is expected of me. I will assume getting out the registration information is a carry over from when squad cars didn't have plate readers.

Jive Talkin Tool said...

I have had many opportunities to practice and eventually perfect my role in a traffic stop--almost all have been at night and 99% of those stops were absolutely deserved:
-Yes, pulling over as soon as safely possible to stop is ideal, and if possible to exit the freeway, do so--the Highway Patrol officers always appreciated that when I did it;
-Windows fully rolled down;
-Dome light is turned on;
-vehicle was fully stopped and the transmission was placed in park;
-Engine was turned off;
-The key was removed from the ignition and placed on the dash in plain sight;
-The seatbelt remained fastened until told otherwise; and
-My hands remained on the steering wheel at the 11 & 1 position(s) with fingers splayed open until directed otherwise.

Most of the time the officer or officers complimented my actions and I was allowed to leave with a warning--often, after a short conversation that was cordial on their part when I did not really deserve that break.

Ofc. C--you are correct, that the attitude and tone of the driver typically steers the direction/outcome of the stop. Anytime I acted like an @sshole or a smart-@ss or a d*ck-hole to the officer or officers, well, I received a ticket or multiple tickets.

Ken Row said...

Clearly there are more than two readers. I appreciate the advise to not worry about the registration until after the officer asks for it -- I'd never thought about the officer getting nervous over what might be in my glovebox.

Car Trapped said...

basics of car driving are important to learn.

charles said...

"Just write the motherfucking ticket"

OMG, you had me laughing so hard with that one - thanks for making my morning!

Anonymous said...

I've been driving a looooong time, and stopped a few times. Never ticketed.

Once, the officer told me he was "on a fishing expedition" was 0600, in an area known for drug use/sales..sadly, this is right next to where I work. He quickly realized, after stopping me, that I wasn't what he was looking for.

Another time, got stopped for going 50 in a 35. The speed limit in the area literally dropped by that 15 in less than a block. Officer who stopped me told me he hated the "damned transition right here"...I chuckled, agreed, and he let me go.

I'm always polite, always friendly, and always end up driving away with nothing more than a "have a good day..." Maybe I've just been lucky, but I like to think it's because I try to apply the Golden Rule.

That said, nearly lost my shit one time when stopped for not "properly signaling a lane change" first thought was whiskey.tango.foxtrot, but it didn't escape my lips. I sat there, rather bewildered because I had done no such thing. I'd seen the squad car behind me as I put on my blinker and changed lanes. This guy was having a bad day, though, and I swear he tried his damnedest to bait me into saying something stupid. Took a lot of restraint, but I didn't. In fact, I didn't say a word, except in response to his questions. And to them, I repeated I hadn't done what he sweared to be damned I did. I was as emotionless as possible.

In the end, exasperated by my lack of argument, he flipped his book closed and just walked away. I admit I had a bit of a chuckle and head shake as I drove away. First time I've encountered that kind of policeman, and I hope it's the last.

Anonymous said...

I might add, before reaching to get your license or registration, ask the officer if it is ok to do so and tell them in which part of the car you will be reaching

Carolyn said...

Thanks Officer Cynical - good advice!

This is kind of niche advice, but I was thankful to learn it. I am hard of hearing and depend on lip reading to communicate - if there is a light in my face or I can't clearly see the officer's face, it will seem that I am not following the conversation or being uncooperative. And when you have a limited sense, further limits to that sense can cause a lot of anxiety ... which does not help me appear cool, calm and collected! It's also embarrassing to keep asking "what?" over and over again ... it does not set a good tone for the stop! LOL

When visibility isn't an issue, I warn the officer that I am hard of hearing and depend on lip reading to communicate - once led to a roadside belly-laugh for the officer because I had been pulled over for a loud exhaust. I assured him that I was not going to use the hearing as an excuse for the exhaust, that even *I* could hear it. But i like to think that warning the officer makes the stop go better because they don't think I am a space case and I don't feel panicky about not being able to communicate.

At night, I use a sign on the back of my visor - it tells the officer that I have a hearing impairment and that I rely on lip-reading for communication, so if it is difficult for me to see, I may need instructions or questions repeated - I just flip the visor over by the window, roll it all the way down and put my hands back at 10 and 2. A Deaf friend told me about using a sign like this after I was pulled over late one night and given a roadside sobriety test ... I hadn't been drinking, but I couldn't understand the officer. I was panicking and trying not to cry (it's scary when you can't communicate) and when I was out of the car it finally OCCURRED to me to tell the guy that I was hearing impaired. He had no way of knowing (you can't tell by my speech and I do not have visible hearing aids) and I was so jumpy I didn't think to mention it - it's part of me, like having brown hair and 10 toes.

Using the sign helps - I have only been pulled over at night once since that happened and the officer commented on it and said it was a smart idea and that traffic stop went very smoothly. Usually I take pains not to mention my impairment - I don't need to hear the same corny jokes again and some helpful people will start exaggerating their speaking without realizing that it distorts their mouth and makes it harder to understand them! LOL But this is important. I like to make sure an officer has every reason to believe I am not someone he needs to worry about. And I would like to avoid further roadside sobriety tests ...