There are few things more distressing than seeing a cop’s lights in your review mirror as he motions you to pull over. I’ve been on both sides of a traffic stop, as a driver and as field producer for “Cops.” It’s never a pleasant experience, but it can be handled smoothly with these tips.
Put yourself in the officer’s shoes. Chances are he or she is on solo patrol and is just as apprehensive as you are. Cops get killed in traffic stops all the time. Remember these two important points: Police like to feel important, and people lie to police most of the time.
Pull over as soon as it’s safe. Don’t stop on a curve or in an intersection. Shut off your engine. These days, most police want you to stay in the car, so do so, keeping both hands on the wheel. If it’s night, turn on the interior light. Expect to hand over both license and car registration, but don’t have it ready. Some cops would take that as an admission of guilt. When the officer approaches your driver’s window, he does not have to tell you why you’ve been pulled over, but most will. If he doesn’t, it’s all right to politely ask “Why did you pull me over?”
Treat the police with respect but without flattery. Be particularly wary of female police officers. They have to over-compensate. Be polite but not overly friendly. Never refer to a policeman as “buddy” or “dude,” but “sir,” “officer, “ma’am” or “sergeant” (if you see 3 stripes).
Do not lie, don’t get argumentative, yet don’t convict yourself. If you’re asked, “Do you know how fast you were going?” and you answer “90, I’m late for work,” you can expect definitely be late for work. Instead, ask the officer what he thought. You can probably honestly respond that you didn’t realize that you were going that fast and apologize. If you rolled through a stop sign, and have never done so before, mention that fact and say that you didn’t realize you hadn’t come to complete stop long enough. Don’t confront the officer. If an officer feels more important in giving you a break than in writing you a ticket, you could just skate by.
When asked, reach for your wallet slowly with one hand. If it’s in the glove compartment, tell the officer that you are going to search there for it. Remember that you are legally required to present your driver’s license and registration while identifying yourself. Police do not have the right to search your car unless there is a reason to do so, like an open liquor bottle on a seat. If an officer asks, “Is it okay if I search your car?” You can simply respond that you’d rather that he didn’t. The fourth amendment to the Constitution protects you against unreasonable searches and seizures.
When it comes to driving under the influence, remember that you can be your own worst enemy. Chances are overwhelming that you’ll be pulled over at night. If the officer asks if you’ve been drinking, respond by telling the officer that it’s late and you’re tired. If you’re pressed on the subject, you can politely refuse to answer, by responding “I’d rather not say.” Remember that “anything that you say can be used against you.” If you are offered a field sobriety test and you haven’t been drinking, you might want to take it, but don’t grin at the absurdity of it, as I did once after a single glass of wine with dinner. If your sobriety is marginal, again you can politely refuse. You don’t want to give officers evidence to use against you. If you’re given a choice between a blood and a breath test, choose the breathalyzer. It’s not as reliable.
Finally, if you do get a ticket, you don’t win any points by saying “thank you.” If you have any last minute questions that could aid your defense in court, ask now. One that comes to mind is whether or not the officer had a video tape record of the stop.