What to do when you’ve been pulled over by a cop

Getting pulled over by a cop can be an intimidating experience. When you see police car lights flashing in your rearview mirror, it can feel like your world has come to an end. Yet, it is worth trying to stay as calm as possible so that you can respond in a way that can be more helpful than detrimental to the situation. To be prepared for a conversation with a cop, consider the following suggestions:

  • Pull over safely: As daunting as it may be to have a police car follow you, it is important to choose the right moment to pull over. Avoid recklessly changing lanes or unlawfully passing other vehicles to get to the shoulder. The police officer likely sees the traffic conditions you are in, and he or she may respect your decision to pull over safely. You may also want to park your car before rolling down your window to speak with the officer.
  • Consider waiting to be prompted before taking any actions: It may seem instinctual to pull out your driver’s license and registration paperwork as soon as a cop is standing at your window, but it may be worth waiting to be prompted to do so. Reaching for your back pocket or the glove compartment may confuse the cop into thinking you were reaching for a weapon. Ultimately, remember that you have the right to remain silent, and you may consider waiting for the cop to ask questions before you respond.
  • Make sure the cop has a reason for pulling you over: A cop may only pull you over for a legitimate reason, such as if you were noticeably violating a traffic law like driving recklessly or speeding aggressively. A cop may even pull you over because your brake lights appear to be broken. A cop may not, however, pull you over for no apparent reason. Make sure you understand why you are being pulled over.
  • Know when a cop can and cannot search your car: A police officer can always search your car if you consent to it. Otherwise, he or she must have a legitimate reason to do so, and cannot assume that there might be something to find in your vehicle without any evidence to suggest it. For example, a cop could pull you over for speeding and then spot drugs in your car, prompting him or her to further investigate what you might have in your possession. A cop could also decide to search your vehicle if there may be reason to believe that you might be associated with a crime, such as if you were visibly bruised or if there were significant blood stains in your car.

Being prepared could work to your advantage

While no one hopes to be pulled over by a police officer, it is important to be prepared for how to respond in the unexpected event. Though you might not be able to control a police officer’s verdict, demonstrating cooperation and following valid instructions may work in your favor, and may also prevent any unnecessary charges from arising.