How to Act when the Police Pull You Over (USA)

You might be nervous about what’s going to happen when you get pulled over, but remember that officers are the ones who have every right to be nervous; they never know what to expect. Generally, the more you do to help ensure the officer’s safety the more you ensure your own.


1. Look for a convenient spot to pull over. Simply slowing down and activating your turn signal will usually be enough to indicate to the officer that you intend to pull over within reasonable distance. Try to find a close parking lot or wide shoulder of the road. Many officers will appreciate the consideration.

2. Relax. Take a deep breath and calm down to help things go smoothly.

3. Roll down your driver’s side window, along with any windows which are tinted. If it is dark, turn on interior lights. Make all your movements slowly–the officer is watching you carefully to make sure you’re not drawing a weapon or hiding something. Do not reach for anything in the passenger compartment of your vehicle or under your seat.

  • If you have electric windows, remember to roll down your window before shutting off your engine! If you forget to do this, and have to start the car again, the officer could take it as sign that you are going to run.
4. Place the car in “park” and turn off the ignition. Put your keys on the dashboard. Doing so gives the officer more confidence that you will not suddenly flee. Sit still; any suspicious movement from you (even a sudden lowering of one or both shoulders) can prompt a search.
5. Keep your hands in plain sight, preferably on the top of the steering wheel, with your fingers visible.
6. When the officer comes to your window, don’t speak first. He or she will usually ask for your license and registration, and is not obliged to tell you why they pulled you over before you comply. Reach towards your wallet or glove compartment, but do it slowly and deliberately. If you’re in a dark area, the officer will follow your hands with his flashlight. Finish this process before anything else, then put your hands back on the wheel. While the officer checks your license and vehicle status via radio, keep your hands on the steering wheel.
7. Keep your answers non-committal and brief. Open-ended questions can get you into trouble, especially if the officer is trying to extract admissions out of you that can be used against you in court.

  • If you’re asked “Do you know why I stopped you?” say “No.”
  • If you’re asked “Do you know how fast you were going?” say “Yes.” Answering “No” to this question will lead the officer to believe that you are ignorant of the speed limit or how fast you are going.
  • If the officer asks, “Do you have a good reason that would make you need to hurry?” say, “No.” If you say “yes,” then even if you were not speeding the officer will believe that you were, and you’ll probably get a ticket.
  • If the officer tells you how fast you were going, say “I see” or don’t say anything at all. Silence is not an admission of guilt.
  • If he/she asks “Have you been drinking?” (But, he/she does NOT smell alcohol.) Say no in case you were stopped, driving in a erratic manner. Tell him if you take medications or have an illness that can cause driving problems. If the officer spots “open containers” of beer, other alcohol, or smells alcohol, you should expect testing and/or demonstrating your coordination and balance.
8. Comply with any requests by the officer. Refusing to comply with an officer’s orders will identify you as either resistant or rebellious. This gives the officer the belief that they have the opportunity to use force to make you obey the orders. Save yourself the trouble and comply with all orders given to you.

  • If the officer sees any illegal objects in plain view, he or she can open the door, reach in, and get it.
  • In the USA, moving vehicles are subject by law enforcement to search with reasonable cause after a traffic stop. Reasonable cause may include observing occupants in suspicious activities, remarks and things that the officer can smell, see or hear like safety violations, open containers, potential weapons, etc.
  • Do not engage the officer in any unnecessary conversation! They know why they pulled you over, and anything you say may be used against you. You have a right to remain silent and not incriminate yourself. Don’t talk unless responding to a question from the officer. This goes for your passengers as well. Also do not name drop if you know an officer he/she works with or not. Chances are that the officer who stopped you assumes you know the other officer because of a prior violation and/or arrest.
  • Do not exit the vehicle unless requested to do so. This is almost always perceived as a threat and it is safer for you inside the car than outside, near traffic. Whenever asked to exit the vehicle, make sure the doors lock behind you.
9. Be polite, and do not argue if you are given a ticket.


  • Remain respectful toward the officer at all times, even when you refuse to consent to a search. Say something along the lines of “I’m sorry, officer, but I don’t consent to any searches”. You may be firm in asserting your rights, but being respectful about it goes a long way toward maintaining a calm, controlled attitude. It also helps “disarm” a dangerous situation if the officer’s initial attitude is hostile.
  • You do not have to say anything about where you are going, what you are doing, where you came from, how fast you were going, etc. Sometimes an officer is just trying to get all of the facts, sometimes they are making probable cause to search the vehicle.
  • Try to note the officer’s name and badge number if possible. This way you can file a complaint with the police department, should you feel you were mistreated. Never complain directly to the police department, always complain through legal council. This will ensure your complaint will go through smoothly and directed at the right person(s).
  • There isn’t much you can say to a dedicated traffic officer that will get you out of a ticket. However, some officers will issue a citation based on the attitude test. You will always get a ticket if you lie, or give the officer attitude. If it is a minor infraction, and you have a polite and repentant attitude, then you might get a warning.


  • Arguing or pleading your case is better left for the courts.
  • Don’t use profanity, obscene language.
  • Don’t try to lose the cop. Sure, it may seem like a fun idea to get on TV for a few hours while news and police helicopters chase you, but be assured that there is nothing worse in this situation. They will catch you, regardless of your driving skills or type of vehicle, because they are equipped with a radio and a force of many police cruisers. They will have very little sympathy for you after you endanger them and the public in any high-speed pursuit.
  • Do not carry illegal or dangerous items in your vehicle, or on your person. Doing so may result in the officer seizing your vehicle and/or placing you under arrest.
  • Do not be in possession of open alcohol containers while in a vehicle, as you may be cited for that open, alcoholic beverage in addition to being charged with DWI/DUI. If you are a passenger, you may be cited for the open container. If so, you will have to appear in court and pay a sizable fine. If you have just been to the liquor store, place your purchases in the trunk in case you are in an accident. If the bottles break inside the car the office may suspect you were drinking.
  • Do not make the police officer angry. They may pull you out of the car, and if you are resistant or defiant they may Pepper Spray or Taser you. Tasers are not a fun experience.
  • Remember, Police officers are people, too. They have feelings, and so if you are personable and friendly, it’s not that they MAY, but they WILL see you in a more favorable light than if you are rude or belligerent.


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This entry was posted on Thursday, January 26th, 2012 at 3:48 pm and is filed under Immigration. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.