Drivers get pulled over every day for various reasons including speeding, running through a stop sign or a red light, having expired registration tags, passing a stopped school bus, or simply having a broken taillight. Another reason for traffic stops is driving under the influence (DUI) – if an officer suspects that someone is driving under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs, or even lawfully-prescribed medications, an officer may initiate a standard traffic stop.
While drivers typically get that sinking feeling when they first realize they are being pulled over, what many people don’t know is that traffic stops can be extremely dangerous for law enforcement personnel.
“Traffic stops and domestic violence are the highest-risk calls – you have no idea what you’re walking into,” John Gnagey, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association, told the Orlando Sentinel. “If I had to rank them, I’d rank traffic stops first and domestic violence second,” Gnagey said.
In light of Gnagey’s comments, it’s important that drivers understand what’s going on in officers’ minds as they conduct routine traffic stops. When they approach a vehicle, they have no idea what to expect. For all they know, the driver could be armed and ready to take the officer’s life.
Traffic Stop Tips
When an officer observes a moving violation or signs of impaired driving (drunk or drugged driving), he or she may wait before pulling the person over. During this time, the officer may be checking the plate to ensure the driver doesn’t have a warrant for their arrest, or they may be checking to see if the vehicle was stolen. Also, officers often need to plan the location of the stop to ensure it’s in a safe and well-lit area (for evening stops).
Once the officer pulls you over, he or she may approach either side of your vehicle so they stay out of traffic. If you need to reach for any documents that are not in the officer’s view, my recommendation is to tell the officer before you search for these documents.
For example, you can say, “Officer, my license is in my jacket, is it okay if I reach for it?” or “My registration is in the glove compartment, is it okay if I grab it?” Whatever you do, do not reach for anything that is underneath your seat; the officer may assume that you’re reaching for a weapon.
As the traffic stop proceeds, follow these steps:
- Remain in your vehicle unless the officer instructs you otherwise.
- Be respectful and polite to the officer.
- If the officer asks you to step outside of your vehicle, follow the officer’s instructions.
- Do not try to run away from the officer.
- If the officer decides to arrest you for any reason, do not resist arrest. Otherwise, you could face additional criminal charges for resisting.
- Do not use force against the officer as this is a crime.
Once the officer obtains your license, insurance, and registration, he or she will go back to their cruiser to check this information. Be aware that during the stop, the officer is looking for criminal behavior, open containers of alcohol, drugs that are in sight, occupants who are not buckled up, and small children who are not in car seats, as well as expired tags, expired insurance, a suspended or revoked license, and arrest warrants.