Early in our life, parents, educators, friends, and the media change the chipper quip, “Policemen are our friends” to “You only get stopped if you’ve done something wrong.” It is not that policemen have changed; it is that you have grown older and now authority figures want to use those same good guys as the bad guys. They want to instill a sense of fear, so that you will avoid doing anything that might bring down the wrath of your former pal, the law enforcement officer.
There are many guides on what to avoid when pulled over by a cop. However, the first three pages of Yahoo!Search on “what not to do if you’re pulled over by a cop” consists of Chris Rock: either him directly, or others building on his statements. I did not read or even glance at any of the articles after reading the title of his article. If you are interested, do a Yahoo!Search. He’s right there in the front.
I spent many years working with the courts and law enforcement personnel. I participated in ride-alongs, which gave me an opportunity to see what it was that causes the antenna on a cop’s internal radar to go into attack mode. Here are some inside pointers for drivers and their passengers.
Do not panic
There are many reasons for being pulled over, from something easy, such as a blinker not working, or something more complicated, like hesitant weaving across lanes. Don’t make a mental checklist and stress out over it. Take a deep breath, say a prayer, if you wish, and wait for the officer. Law enforcement officers like to make people sweat, so be aware they will sit in their car for a few moments.
Do not bend, lean, or make any suspicious moves
Keep your hands on the steering wheel where they can be seen. If you are moving around, an automatic assumption is that you are hiding something. Don’t do something that is going to have backup called to assist in removing everything possible from your car, to find out what was tucked away. There will be time to find the registration, insurance certificate, and your driver’s license, when it is asked for.
Do not stop immediately; pull over in a safe area (verify with your state law; some states require you to stop even if you are in the fast lane of the roundabout in five o’clock traffic).
There’s no need for me to remind anyone that there are phony cops. They get a car with lights, buy a badge online, and look for real victims. If you know anyone in the area where you’re stopped, call and alert them. Have your local law enforcement agencies on speed dial. Call and confirm with them that an officer has reported a stop in your vicinity. Find an area with light. If you are cited, a judge should understand your concern.
Do not turn off your engine, open your door, or roll the driver or passenger window more than two inches down.
If it is cold outside, or you have an older car, shutting off the engine may impede the car from restarting. Let the engine idle. This is also a safety factor for you, in case the person stopping you is really not the genuine article. You will be able to pull away and get help. ID, registration, and insurance papers can be passed through the top of the window. Explain any move you have to make before you start to make it. Chances are good you two do not know each other. He or she has no reason to believe you are not a threat, either.
Do not start apologizing and confessing when the officer approaches the car. If he or she asks if you know why you were pulled over, it is okay to say no. You were not sitting in that car when they made the decision to pull you over.
Remember if it is evening or nighttime, the officer will approach with a large bright flashlight, which will be shone directly into your eyes and over the seating area, front and back. This is a defensive action for the cop. It is not an intimidation tactic. He or she will approach either the driver’s door or the passenger’s door. Be prepared. A badge should be produced immediately, if it is not visible on the uniform. Be brief with your answers, but give the information requested. Stay calm. Don’t glance towards the floorboard or in the back seat. Stay calm. You might only get a lecture, a warning, or at worst, a citation.
This information is valid, even if you are in violation of the law. You should already be aware of things you must say, and what you don’t want to say when you are getting pulled over. Vague comments only attract attention and raise suspicion
Do not disrespect the officer.
You’ve tried your entire driving life to avoid being pulled over. Now it’s happened. It’s never a good time. The person in the patrol car behind you has sworn to die to protect your life. He or she has agreed to take another life, if necessary, to protect the community. Keeping the roadways safe is part of the job. Don’t give them grief. Listen to the reason. If you have a rebuttal, give it calmly. Don’t respond with, “You’re crazy!” If you get a citation, you must sign acknowledgment of the court information. It is not an admission of guilt. Don’t forget to say ‘thank you.”
Once you are free to go, the patrol car that pulled you over will generally place itself to give you the opportunity to get back on the road. Drive carefully, and stop for coffee, tea, soda, or water, if desired. A beer is definitely not a good idea at this point. Try to put the episode out of your mind until the next day, when you can view it with a fresh mind. Regardless of the outcome, remember it’s not the end of the world.
The above is based on personal experience from several jobs within the legal system.