Being pulled over is part of driving. Most drivers will be pulled over at some point during their driving years. It’s normal to feel nervous, but you can help calm yourself by being prepared and learning what to do when you’re pulled over. Being calm not only helps you feel better, but it can also help keep you and the officer safe.
Follow these steps if you’re pulled over by law enforcement.
1. Turn on Your Turn Signal or Hazard Lights
The first thing you should do when you notice the police officer’s lights are put on your turn signal. Your turn signal doesn’t just let other drivers know you want to move over. When you’re getting pulled over, it lets the officer know that you see them and plan to comply.
If you’re not in a safe area to pull over, such as a freeway overpass with narrow shoulders, turn on your hazard lights instead. Like your turn signal, your flashing hazard lights help the officer understand your intent. They should recognize flashing lights as a sign you plan to pull over as soon as it’s safe to do so.
2. Find a Safe Spot to Pull Over
With your turn signal engaged, look ahead at the side of the road for a place to pull over. You should pick a spot that is wide enough for your car to be off the road. Try to pull far enough to the side so that the officer doesn’t have to stand in the lane. If possible, it’s best to pull over on a quiet side street or in a parking lot. You shouldn’t drive for miles, but most officers would rather you drive to a safer location than stop in heavy traffic. Inattentive drivers could seriously injure or kill an officer who is standing by your driver’s side window. Help keep them safe by giving them plenty of room to be out of traffic.
On a high-speed highway, you may not be able to find a wide, safe spot to pull over. In this case, find the widest part of the shoulder available. Look for a stretch of highway that’s on relatively flat land, because the officer may choose to go to your passenger side to stay out of traffic. A flat area makes it easier for them to walk off the road and up to your car.
3. Make Yourself Visible
As soon as you put your turn signal on, make it obvious what you’re doing in your vehicle. Turn off the ignition after parking so the officer knows you won’t speed off when they come to your car. Avoid making lots of movement while you wait for them to approach. Staying still helps reassure the police officer that you haven’t reached for any weapons or tried to hide anything in your car. You might be tempted to grab your license or insurance information, but reaching over to grab it from your wallet or glove box could make the officer feel uncomfortable.
Keep your seatbelt on after parking the car. Wearing your seatbelt shows that you were using it while driving. It also helps put the officer at ease, as your movements are more restricted and show you don’t plan to try to get out of the car or fight.
If you’re pulled over at night, turn on the interior dome light or reading lights. Adding light to your car makes it easier for the officer to see you and anything in your car. This could help the officer feel more comfortable than walking up to a darkened car in the middle of the night.
4. Relax and Wait for the Officer
As you wait for the officer to exit their car, roll down your driver’s side window. In situations with heavy traffic, you should roll down your passenger window as well. After rolling down your window, place your hands on the top of your steering wheel. The officer will likely appreciate that they can see your hands when they come to your window.
Take a deep breath and try to relax while waiting for the officer. Remember that they are probably nervous as well, as they never know what they’ll encounter in a routine traffic stop.
5. Follow Instructions and Be Polite
When the officer approaches your vehicle, listen to their instructions. You’ll probably be asked to show your identification and proof of insurance. Make it clear to the officer where you keep these items and ask if you can reach for them. Wait for the officer to confirm they know what you’re about to do and then get out your items.
The officer will probably ask you questions while you get your identification and insurance. You should remain respectful and courteous, but avoid admitting guilt. Keep your answers to the officer’s questions simple and to the point, such as “yes” or “no” answers. Even if you feel you’ve been wrongly pulled over, the time to argue is in court, not on the side of the road.
When the officer allows you to leave, be careful to follow traffic safety, including using your turn signal to reenter the roadway. Take your time and wait for a safe break in traffic before pulling back onto the road.
Getting pulled over is never a fun experience, but you don’t need to panic. Following these tips should help keep you and the officer feel safe and calm if you’re pulled over.