Police traffic stops: Do’s and don’ts

Has this ever happened to you? You’re driving down the road, minding your own business and, all of a sudden, you see those flashing blue lights in your rear-view mirror. Your heart starts racing, adrenaline kicks in and just like that you’re a ball of nerves looking for the closest place to pull over.

Well, relax. Unless you’re a wanted fugitive, carrying some sort of contraband or driving extremely recklessly, chances are the traffic stop won’t be as bad as you fear. In fact, the way you behave can influence how the police officer treats you. The following dos and don’ts will steer you in the right direction.


  • Do pull over as soon as you can do so safely. A driver who passes up obvious opportunities to pull over will make the officer suspicious and put him on alert.
  • Do roll down your window so that the officer can talk to you when he approaches.
  • Do put-and keep-your hands where the officer can see them. Putting your hands on your steering wheel is always a good bet.
  • Do look the officer in the eye when he comes to talk to you. A driver who only looks forward, or keeps glancing at the glove compartment, will raise suspicion.
  • Do answer the officer’s questions. Officers often ask questions like “Is this your car?” or “Where are you headed?” Answer politely and truthfully.
  • Do tell the officer if you need to reach into a bag or your glove compartment to retrieve your license and registration. You can say something like, “My license is in my purse, which is on the floor. I’m going to get it now.” Police officers are trained to view sudden movements with suspicion, and you don’t want to give the impression that you are reaching for any kind of weapon.


Don’t get out your vehicle, unless you are instructed to do so.

  • Don’t admit fault. Just like suspects on television who are reminded of their right to remain silent, you do not have to admit your guilt to an officer who pulls you over. So, if the officer asks, “Do you know how fast you were going?” or “You know you failed to signal, right?” feel free to say, “I don’t know, Officer,” or “I believe I did, Officer.” Keep your tone polite and respectful, but don’t admit you did something wrong.
  • Don’t tell the police officer that you pay his salary with your taxes, that you know your rights, or anything else that the officer will interpret as disrespectful and argumentative. Far from saving you a ticket, these tactics are likely to annoy the officer and make the whole experience worse.
  • Don’t argue your case. If the police officer pulled you over, he believed there was good cause to do so. And if he wants to give you a ticket, nothing you say is going to change that. If you’re determined to prove your innocence, protest the ticket through the official process. (In some states, the ticket is dismissed if you show up to court to protest it and the officer doesn’t appear to testify!)

While these tips may not save you from a ticket-the only surefire way to do that is to drive safely and legally-following them will increase your chances of being treated fairly and respectfully during your traffic stop.