Editor’s note: The author is not a lawyer or officer of the court. This advice should not be taken as legal advice. If you need legal advice, talk to a lawyer; don’t go to an internet site, especially not one that focuses on oddball humor.
Other Editor’s note: I’ll be referring to the officer using the common idiom of the male pronoun. That is linguistically correct if you are unaware or unsure of the subject’s sex. If this offends you, feel free to suck it up and read something else.
You’re driving down the street, rocking out to Bananarama or Flock of Seagulls or whatever you kids listen to these days, when suddenly you see trippy red and blue lights flashing in your rearview mirror. What do you do?
1. Pull Over
If you are on a limited-access highway, turn on your turn signal and gradually reduce your speed as you pull into the emergency lane. Pull as far away from traffic as you can while still remaining on the pavement. If no emergency lane is available, you got me. I’d slowly work my way to the nearest exit and pull off the highway entirely, but you have to do what you think is right.
If you are on a regular road, slow down and pull into the nearest safe place to stop. A parking lot or unused side street is good. Don’t try to find a great parking space, but also don’t stop right in the middle of a busy street.
Don’t speed up. Try to indicate to the officer that you are attempting to comply with his lawful order that you pull off the road. In fact, the idea, here, is for you to stop somewhere where both you and the officer will be safe while you conduct your business.
2. Stop your car
Once your car is stopped, put it in park and turn the engine off. Take your keys out of the ignition and place them on your dashboard near the middle (so they don’t accidentally fall into the defogger vent). Some newer cars have a handy pad in front of the onboard display; if you do, put them there.
Roll your window about halfway down. This allows the officer to have a reasonable discussion with you while affording you protection against assault in the rare case that this is not a real police officer.
Tell anyone else in the car to shut the hell up and let you do the talking. They have no stake in this, unless they mouth off and force the officer to drag them down to jail for being a dumbass. They may be asked to identify themselves, and should be prepared to do so.
Put your hands on the steering wheel, at the top, and leave them there.
3. Listen to the officer and comply with his lawful requests
Depending on your state, the officer will ask to see your driver’s license and either your registration or your proof of insurance. This is a lawful request. He has already observed you in violation of at least one traffic law, and has every right to demand that you show proof that you are entitled to be driving your car on that state’s roads. Hand them over.
If you need to reach for anything, inform the officer beforehand. “My license is in my wallet,” and, “My insurance card is in my glove box.” are reasonable things to say, and allay any concerns the officer may have as to whether or not you are reaching for a weapon. Remember, he doesn’t know you; you could be a terrorist leaning over to set off your car bomb.
If you have any weapons in your car, inform the officer of them and their location. “Officer, I need to inform you that I have a loaded pistol in a console holster. I am licensed to carry,” is the sort of thing you should say, substituting the actual location and details of your right to have the weapon and whether or not it is loaded. The officer may ask you to remove the weapon and surrender it to him. He is within his rights. Again, he doesn’t know you, and part of his job is resolving the issue without anyone going to the hospital or the morgue. Without making any sudden or suspicious movements, or gripping the weapon in a threatening way, surrender the weapon to the officer. He will return it when he lets you go.
if asked to step out of the vehicle, step out. Officers may remove any person from a vehicle during a traffic stop. Pennsylvania v. Mimms, Maryland v. Wilson, Michigan v. Long, Rakas v. Illinois are all cases in which are backed by the US Supreme Court.
4. Be Polite but do not admit to wrongdoing
Greet the officer cordially, “Good afternoon, officer, may I help you?” is a nice way to do this. He may ask you if you know why he pulled you over. Politely assert that you do not know why. Don’t worry, he’ll tell you. Don’t argue with him. He’s not a judge, nor is he a prosecutor; he saw what he saw. Not only that, he told his dispatcher what he saw; he’s not going back to his car to say, “Never mind the traffic stop, dispatch; they say they didn’t do it.”
It’s important to remember that this guy (or gal) works a ten to twelve hour shift, encountering people on what is, at least the worst day of their week–possibly their year. He doesn’t need to hear how you’re a sovereign citizen and the US is just a corporation that only holds legal jurisdiction if you let it. He doesn’t need to hear about the YouTube video you saw that says you don’t have to provide your driver’s license or proof of insurance. He doesn’t want a debate. He doesn’t want any trouble at all.
The truth is, he probably didn’t want to pull you over, but your dumbass ran the red light or blew through a school zone at 50 miles per, and he didn’t have a choice. You violated one of our many sensible traffic laws that keep kindergarteners from being knocked forty feet across the road.
The point is that you made the dumbass choice to break the law, the least you can do is not give the officer any shit when he calls you down.
5. Sign the ticket
Listen while the officer explains why he’s giving you a ticket and what needs to be done, next. Sign the ticket. It is not an admission of guilt. All your signature at the bottom of a ticket says is that the officer presented you with a summons for the cited violation and you took it. Again, not an admission of guilt, just an admission that you received the ticket. Officers have to account for every ticket that comes out of their book, because they’re made of platinum, apparently.
If you do want to admit your guilt and simply pay the standard fine–and, man, I wish some of you would–there is a space for that on the back. You sign, you mail the court a check, done (unless you’re a serial dumbass, in which case the court may demand an appearance). If you only get one ticket a year, and your state/county/city allows it, you may be entitled to have the ticket quashed by attending a defensive driving class. You still have to appear in court, and the judge has to approve it.
6. Thank the officer
You don’t have to, but it’s a nice thing to do. Don’t apologize to him for being such a dumbass, but do thank him, in a general way (“Thank you, officer,” works, if you can keep the snideness out of your voice).
7. Resume your journey
Once the officer lets you go, get your keys, start your car, and carefully re-enter traffic. Don’t wait for the officer. He has some paperwork to complete, and he might find it weird that you’re just sitting there, staring in your rearview mirror. Don’t forget to make your appearance, or better yet, just pay your damn ticket.
Can the officer search my vehicle? Yes and no. A traffic stop does not, in and of itself, constitute enough probable cause for a vehicle search. If you and your idiot friends make a scuffle hiding the bag of weed on your console, or if (bless your tiny little mind) you leave that bag on your console in plain view, then that does constitute probable cause. Basically, don’t give the officer a reason to be suspicious, and he won’t have a reason to search your car and he won’t have a rationale when the judge asks him.
I’m a reasonably attractive young woman; should I offer the officer my phone number or a blow job? Oddly enough, no. That comes off as an admission of guilt and an attempt at a bribe (how much of a bribe depends on how impressed the officer is with your attributes). Even before the days of dash and body cameras (with sound), this was an iffy proposition. Now, it’s just a good way to turn a misdemeanor traffic stop into a felony.
In closing, don’t be an idiot.