Motor Vehicle Stops

How to respond to a motor vehicle stop

 What should I do if I'm pulled over by the police?

For many people, being pulled over by a Police Officer while driving in your car can be an extremely stressful event.

If a police car pulls in behind you while driving and activates it's emergency lights and/or siren, you should pull over to the side of the road as soon as it is safe.  Once you have pulled over, you should put the car in park and turn on the interior light.  This is for your safety as well as the safety of the officer.

You have to remember that although you know you are a decent, law abiding citizen, the Police Officer behind you has no idea who you are and will be naturally cautious as numerous officers are hurt and even killed each year during "routine" traffic stops.  When approached by the officer, you will be asked for your driver's license, vehicle registration card and proof of insurance for the car. 

If you need to enter the glove compartment to retrieve the documents, just tell the officer what you are doing and proceed to get your documents when instructed.  

In order to make this traffic stop as safe and pleasant as possible for all involved, here are a few tips:

  • Do not make any sudden or violent movements.
  • Do not suddenly conceal or hide your hands.
  • Remain in the vehicle unless instructed to exit by the officer.

As soon as the officer has your documents, he will explain the reason for the traffic stop and may give a verbal warning, a written warning or issue you a traffic summons.  If you have any questions, the officer will attempt to answer them at the scene and will also provide you with the number for the Municipal Violations Bureau which is located on the back of the summons.          

State Law requires you to pull over to the right side of the road and stop when signaled to do so by a police officer-whether the officer is in a police car or on foot. Being pulled over may cause anxiety for both you and the police officer. Your anxiety may be caused by the fear of getting a ticket or because you are not sure why you are being stopped. Police officers rarely know what to expect from a driver or his or her passengers during a traffic stop and are likely to be anxious about their own personal safety.

You can help reduce the levels of anxiety during a traffic stop, both your own and the officers, and help to lessen the chance of that stop unnecessarily erupting into something more serious, by reading and following these common-sense guidelines.  

  • Do not ignore the officer’s signal by pretending you didn’t see it or by assuming it wasn’t meant for you.
  • Turn on your right-turn signal to let the officer know you intend to stop and carefully move your vehicle completely to the right side of the road after checking your mirrors. (If the officer continues on by without ordering you to stop you can return to the flow of traffic when it is safe to do so.)
  • Gradually slow the vehicle and bring it to a safe stop by the right side of the road (not in an intersection, or in front of a driveway or in a travel lane).
  • Put the car in park (if an automatic transmission) or in neutral with the parking brake on (if a standard transmission) and turn off the engine.
  • Both you and your passengers should stay in the vehicle unless you are instructed to get out by the officer.
  • If it is after dark, leave your headlights on and you should put the interior overhead light on, also.
  • Roll down the driver’s window as the officer approaches.
  • Wait to be instructed by the officer to produce your license and registration, but have them ready, and do not present them to the officer in a wallet or in a holder. (You are required by law to have your license and registration when operating a vehicle).
  • You should make sure that your hands are in plain sight and tell your passengers to do the same.
  • Neither you nor your passengers should make any sudden movements or gestures that could be construed as threatening by the officer, such as reaching under the seats or reaching into any other unlit areas of the vehicle.
  • Stay in your vehicle when the officer goes back to the police car. If you have a question to at that point you should remain in your vehicle until the officer returns. If you are able to find any documents the officer previously requested, hold them out the window so he or she can see you have them and wait until the officer return.
  • Accept the return of your paperwork politely. If the officer issues a citation to you, do not attempt to argue your case or to persuade the officer to change or rescind it. Once a citation is issued, the police officer is required to file the appropriate copies with his or her superior officer. You have the right to challenge the issuance of the citation in Court, if you choose to do so.
  • When the officer tells you that you can go, put on your left-turn signal, check your mirrors prior to re-entering traffic and, if on a divided highway, accelerate to a safe speed while in the breakdown lane before merging into traffic.

Remember, a police officer never knows what to expect when stopping a driver-even if the stop is unrelated to a motor vehicle violation. Don’t let your emotions or sudden unexplained movements (or those of your passengers) introduce a higher degree of tension or anxiety into the traffic stop. A police officer may be more likely to listen to what you have to say and less likely to feel threatened by you (or your passengers) if you follow these simple guidelines.