Traffic Stop Etiquette 101: What Not to Do


Traffic stops are perhaps the most common interaction between civilians and police. Thousands of people across the U.S. are pulled over by police officers each day. Whether you speed, follow other cars too closely, or fail to use your turn signal, these behaviors can incite suspicion and alert police officers nearby.

Naturally, nervousness, fear, and frustration kick-in full force once we see those dreaded blue lights flashing behind us, rendering drivers virtually immobile. When overcome with a disorienting sense of anxiety, it can be difficult to process this event and utilize our common-sense skills.

Note that the fear of getting a ticket or being carted off to jail may trigger this fight-or-flight response. So, when you spot a police car in your rearview mirror, try to remain calm, as erratic behavior or sudden hostility can increase your chances of the officer in question taking disciplinary action.

If the officer who pulled you over punishes your traffic violation with a speeding ticket, don’t sweat it. You can always enroll in a defensive driving course to improve your driving record. While defensive driving classes like these can polish a driving record after traffic infractions, most drivers would much rather avoid racking them up in the first place.

In today’s political climate, it’s more important than ever that drivers know what they should and should not do if pulled over by law enforcement. Despite pervasive misconceptions, there are right and wrong things to do if you’re pulled over by law enforcement. For more information on what you shouldn’t do if pulled over, read on.

Don’t leave the car running

First and foremost, don’t leave the car running when pulled over during a traffic stop. Always move the vehicle over to the right side of the road and out of traffic. Then, turn off the ignition.

Taking these precautions keeps both parties involved safe and reduces any suspicion the police officer might have concerning the driver and their intentions. Should you forget to turn off the vehicle, an officer might suspect that the driver will flee unexpectedly during the traffic stop.

Don’t move

You may feel inclined to gather documents that the police officer will request once you notice that you’re being pulled over, but try to resist the urge. Police officers don’t know who you are or what your intentions may be. Because they put their lives on the line every day and are in an ever-present danger, do your part to ensure their safety. Wait until the officer approaches and requests your driver’s license, proof of insurance, etc. Even then, ask the officer if you may grab the items or tell him or her where you’re reaching. If an officer suspects that you’re searching for a weapon, things can go south very quickly.

Don’t act aggressively

No one likes being pulled over by police, but it’s bound to happen after years of driving experience. Remember not to take out your frustrations on the officer, as any displays of aggression can escalate the situation.

If you are rude, hostile, or refuse to cooperate with the officer, you will make things much worse for yourself. In these cases, a no-nonsense,10-to15-minute traffic stop can devolve into a potentially life-threatening situation in a flash. With these consequences in mind, handle the traffic stop with the right attitude and approach.

Don’t refuse document requests

Don’t refuse document requests from the officer handling the traffic stop. It’s a law that drivers must present a police officer with proper identification upon request. Failing to provide the correct identification may result in an arrest. If you drive without insurance or even a driver’s license, be honest and upfront with the officer from the start.

Don’t argue with the officer

This advice coincides with the above tip. Arguing with an officer also leads to more problems you can prevent by being polite, courteous, and responding to the officer’s requests. It’s okay to be upset and frustrated about a traffic stop, but it’s never acceptable to take that out on the officer. Make the traffic stop simple, and don’t argue.

Don’t resist arrest

Even if you think the officer has no right to arrest you, don’t resist. Resisting is considered a criminal charge and only makes matters look worse for you in court. You do not have a right to resist arrest, despite popular misconceptions.

Don’t incriminate yourself

You have the right to remain silent. By all means, use that right when a police officer has stopped you for a traffic violation. Officers receive training to use tactics and techniques that “trick” people into making admissions of guilt.

Even a simple question like ” Do you know why I pulled you over” can be incriminating. Answer with a no and never incriminate yourself in any way.

In summary

Should you choose to ignore this advice, a driver may have to serve time or surrender their license. To avoid upsetting the police officer in question or setting off alarm bells, remain calm, follow instructions, and respect the officer’s authority.

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