What To Expect When The Cops Pull You Over And The Strange Things That Can Happen

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If getting pulled over by the cops stresses you out, this guide will help put your mind at ease.

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Being pulled over by the cops is rarely a stress-free experience, even if it's just a routine stop where you haven't done anything wrong. There are various things you can do to ease your own tension and avoid exacerbating the situation however, and understanding why cops do what they do can help to make you less anxious.

In most cases, the cops that pull you over are as wary as you are, so if you haven't done anything wrong and you're not a criminal on the run, complying and remaining cordial is a good first step. Knowing how to react and what to expect will certainly help you in this regard, so here's how to respond to being signaled for a traffic stop and what that typically entails.

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What To Do When Police Stop Your Car

If you've been pulled over by the cops, or are being signaled to do so, here are some helpful steps to follow:

  • Pull Over Immediately - As soon as you notice the flashing lights and/or siren of the police car behind you, look for a safe area out of the way of other traffic, and pull over. You should either activate your hazard lights or indicate where you're going to pull over and make sure you are not obstructing any other traffic.
  • Put Car in Neutral/Park - Once you've found a safe area to stop, be sure to put your car into neutral or park with the handbrake up so that the police are ensured that you're not planning on speeding off at any moment. This also prevents accidentally rolling forward or back while you are engaging with the police officers and causing damage. You may turn your car off, too.
  • Turn on the Cabin Light - If the police are stopping cars at night time, it's a good idea to put on your cabin light once you've pulled over so that you give the officer approaching your car better visibility into the cabin. Not only is this a good indication that you have nothing to hide, but it makes the police officer's job a little easier and will keep the stop time to a minimum.
  • Roll Down Your Window - Roll down your window fully and consider rolling down your other windows if they are heavily tinted to increase visibility.
  • Keep Hands in Plain View - Place your hands on the steering wheel and if you have passengers, make sure they keep their hands in plain sight. Be sure to move in a calm manner and don't reach toward your glovebox, toward the passenger seat, or under your seat. We know things are often tense, so pre-empting issues is always a smart decision.
  • Wait for the officer to ask for your information - Don't interrupt the officer, and allow them to do their job. If they ask for your information, let them know where it is located and then retrieve it. If you don't have it with you, you'll have to explain why not. Honesty is always the best policy.
  • Be Polite and Cooperative - Show the officer a decent level of respect and try your best to keep the encounter cordial. The objective is to comply as the officer is simply doing their job, and to keep yourself safe and out of any unnecessary trouble. You'll be able to contest any chargers you feel were wrongfully given in court after the encounter.
  • If you're being given a ticket, you may clarify your understanding of the matter. It is best to avoid heated arguments with the officer. If you believe you have been wrongly fined, speaking calmly and with respect will go a long way.
  • Wait for the go-ahead from the officer before starting up your car and heading back out into traffic - do so only when it is safe, and in compliance with all the road rules and traffic signs around you.

10 Things Police Look for During Traffic Stops

When a police officer is pulling someone over, there is a certain procedure the officer has been trained to follow and certain things the officer has been taught to pay attention to. Here are some of the things to consider from the officer's point of view:

  1. Visibility - Police will consider vehicles with heavily tinted windows to be higher-risk vehicles than those with light- or no tint. You can read more about window tinting here.
  2. In-car Activity - Lots of movement in the car could be an indication that the occupants are trying to retrieve or conceal a weapon or get rid of contraband. Nervous movements will also have officers on high alert.
  3. Telltale Signs - Cops will try to identify any telltale signs that the car is stolen such as clean number plates on a dirty car, or vice-versa, missing registration stickers, and the like. Naturally, those driving high-end sports cars or uber luxury cars in a way that may seem out of the ordinary will also attract attention.
  4. Driving-on - Once the traffic officer has activated their overhead lights and siren, they expect drivers to pull over immediately or as soon as it is safe to do so. Refusing to stop or pull over will cause bigger problems
  5. Faking - The traffic cops will want to make sure that the car is turned off or will determine whether the car is put into neutral or park by looking at the car's brake lights.
  6. Tailgate or Trunk - Cops will check if the car's trunk or tailgate is slightly open to avoid being ambushed by anyone lying in wait.
  7. Eye-contact - Innocent people tend to look an officer in the face or expose their faces to the officers, while guilty people tend to try to conceal their expressions.
  8. Concealed Items - Officers will scan the cabin of the car for areas where items could be hidden or will just look for suspicious items in the car.
  9. Signs of DUI - Empty bottles or cans littering the floor of your sport utility vehicle, and even spilled liquid, are all signs that the driver has potentially been drinking in the car. Naturally the same goes for what they can smell, be it alcohol on your breath, or smoke emanating from the cabin.
  10. Procrastinating - Driver's should know where they keep their license, registration, and insurance papers, so when a driver spends time searching for the papers, either they don't have them, or the car could be stolen. These are essential items to always keep in your car.
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Strange Things Cops Do: Why Do They Touch The Back Of Your Car?

There are several reasons as to why cops touch the back of your car when approaching. Before the police started using dashboard cameras in their patrol vehicles and using POV body cameras as standard practice, they would tap the rear taillight of cars they've pulled over as an inconspicuous way to leave behind evidence of the encounter. If the officer has to prove that the encounter did happen or if anything had to happen to the officer during the traffic stop, the fingerprints left on the taillight can be used as evidence that the encounter did happen if a more complex investigation is opened or if whatever happens during the encounter leads to court.

It's also widely believed that this is a tactic used to startle the driver and occupants, which is something that is more likely to work if the driver or occupants are trying to conceal something, which then gives the officer a better idea of what they can expect or give themself more time to see what's going on in the car. Tapping the trunk also lets the officer determine whether or not the trunk or tailgate is closed. If it were slightly open, this could be an indication of an ambush.

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FAQs

Can an officer pat me down or search my vehicle?

Yes. Whether you give consent or not, an officer does have the authority to pat you down and search your car if they believe you could have a weapon or contraband on your person or in your car. It's worth noting, however, that if you do give consent, it will be a lot more difficult to defend yourself in court should they find something illegal.

Do I have to answer all of the police officers' questions?

No. In most circumstances, you're not legally obligated to answer cops asking questions, but in some states, if the officer asks for your name, you'll have to answer, and if they ask for your license and registration, you'll have to comply. You otherwise don't have to answer any other questions cops may ask, but there aren't many good reasons why you'd avoid it. Unless you have something to hide, being upfront and honest is always the best way to go.

Am I allowed to exit my vehicle during a traffic stop?

No. You are only allowed to exit your vehicle if the police officer requests that you do, as there are several risks involved. Getting out of your vehicle could be considered threatening to a police officer, especially if you approach the cop's car as they are unsure of your intent, and getting out of your vehicle could put you in danger especially if there's a lot of traffic around.

Can unmarked police cars pull me over?

Unmarked police cars aren't typically assigned to official traffic duties but police in unmarked vehicles are allowed to pull over drivers that have committed blatant traffic infringements or are behaving in a way that is a risk to themselves or others on the road. Officers that do pull over a car in an unmarked vehicle will, however, have to be able to identify themselves.

Are there any questions you should ask a police officer?

You are entitled to ask any questions you deem relevant, or even ask for an officer's badge number or other identifying information if you feel they are treating you unfairly. However, like you, they are not required to answer any of these questions, nor even tell you the reason that they pulled you over. You are allowed to record the interaction if you feel there might be funny business afoot. This can be construed as confrontational by some cops, though, even if they are not legally allowed to stop you.

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