If you drive a car, there is a high likelihood that you will get pulled over by the police at some point. Seeing the flashing blue lights in your rearview mirror is one of the more stressful things that can happen to most drivers. When it does happen to you, there are a few things you can do to make the interaction go smoothly.
Flashing Blue Lights
When you see the blue lights in your rearview, the first thing you should do is look for a safe place to pull over. Most states have laws requiring drivers to slow down and pull over whenever an emergency vehicle with flashing lights is behind you whether they’re after you or someone else.
Use your turn signal just like you would if you were turning and pull over somewhere safe. You want to get as far out of the flow of traffic as you can so that the officer is safe when walking up to your vehicle. A parking lot is a good place to pull over, but the shoulder of the road will do. If there simply isn’t a safe place to pull over, turn on your blinker and drive slowly to let the officer know that you’re trying to find a safe place to stop.
Once you get stopped, the officer will pull up behind you and will likely shine a spotlight into your car. This helps the officer see what’s going on inside your vehicle. The next thing you should do is turn off the car and place your keys on the dashboard. This sends a clear message to the officer that you have no intention of driving off. If the radio is on, be sure to turn it off also.
There will be a minute or two from the time the cars stop until the officer is at your window. During this time, the officer is checking with dispatch to see if there are any reports on the car or people associated with it. While this is happening, you should be busy getting your driver’s licence, the vehicle registration, and your proof of insurance ready. Once you’ve got these documents ready, place them on the dashboard as well. All that’s left to do now is wait for the officer to approach your vehicle.
While you wait, be sure to keep your hands visible. Put both hands on the steering wheel or somewhere else that is easy for the officer to see with your fingers extended. The walk up to a vehicle and the first few moments of an interaction are the most stressful for the officer so anything you can do to signal that you’re cooperating and not a threat will help put the officer at ease.
Now that the officer is at your window, it’s time to make it clear that you recognize his or her authority. Greet the officer politely. Make good use of “officer”, “sir” or “ma’am” as appropriate. The goal is to show deference and respect, not to be a kiss up. Even if you were driving 24 in a 25 and you’re late to pick up your kids from school, if you make the extra effort to be polite and show respect then you’re more likely to drive away having had a good interaction.
If the officer asks you if you know why you were pulled over, be honest, but don’t guess. If you’re confident that you weren’t speeding, say so, respectfully. Unless you’re sure that you actually were violating some traffic law, don’t admit to anything. Saying, “I’m sorry officer, I don’t know why I was pulled over,” is a good way to respond to the question.
I’m Sorry Officer
The officer should tell you why you’ve been pulled over. This is not the time to argue or debate whether the offense actually occurred. If you disagree with the officer’s version of what happened, it’s ok to say so as long as you’re being respectful. Saying something like, “I’m sorry officer, I remember coming to a full stop at the stop sign,” is a good way to respectfully let the officer know that you disagree.
In this scenario, it’s likely that the officer will write you a ticket. In the event that happens and you believe that the ticket is incorrect, it’s ok to politely ask the officer how you should go about contesting the ticket. It’s likely that there are instructions on the backside of the ticket telling you how to pay it or contest it.
Police Are People Too
The uniform, the bullet-proof vest, the pistol, the badge; all these things are designed to help officers do their jobs and, frankly, they’re intended to convey an image of authority and intimidation. Underneath all that kit, however, is a human being with thoughts and feelings just like yours. Not only that, but these humans spend their workdays dealing with other humans who are having what might be the worst day of their lives.
Working every day in that environment is stressful, but it gives us the chance to exceed their expectation for a routine interaction by simply being polite and respectful. The simple, small things you do to show legitimate respect to an officer may be enough to tip the scales in your favor so that you get a warning instead of a ticket.