Every year, roughly 20 million drivers are pulled over by law enforcement officials in America, according to Stanford University’s Open Policing Project.
That’s around 10 percent of Americans with valid driver’s licenses – so it’s not crazy to think that you could experience a run-in with the law the next time you hit the open road.
And really, is there anything worse than hearing that siren and seeing those red, white, and blue lights in your rearview mirror?
Luckily, we have some tips to ensure that any potential interaction with the police goes as smoothly as possible. Within, we lay down the law and expose the worst things to do when you get pulled over.
When you see those lights start to flash behind you, Farid Yaghoubtil, Esq., a partner at Downtown L.A. Law Group, says it’s best to remain calm and avoid panicking.
“Generally officers are on high alert after pulling you over. You should always remain calm and comply to avoid any issues,” he says. Remember: The police officer is merely doing their job by enforcing the law, and panicking is only going to make the situation that much more tense.
Don’t remove your seatbelt
Until the police officer can clearly see what you’re doing, do not take off your seatbelt. Though it might be a force of habit when stopping your vehicle, removing your seatbelt before the police officer comes to speak with you could give them a reason to assume that you were never wearing one in the first place, forcing them to issue a ticket for that violation as well.
Don’t speak unless spoken to
According to former civil litigator Clinton M. Sandvick, you should always wait to speak until the police officer tells you why they pulled you over.
“Let the officer approach the car and let them take the lead,” he says. Being the first to speak in this situation just makes it appear as though you’re guilty or are attempting to be combative – two things that could spell trouble for you in the long-run.
Even if you disagree with your alleged violation, being obedient will make the whole ordeal go far more smoothly, says Thomas J. Simeone, managing partner at Simeone & Miller, LLP in Washington, D.C.
“Do not lose your temper because the officer will record that in his or her notes. Then, when you go to court and try to reach a plea deal for a lesser sentence, the prosecutor or judge will ask the officer for their recollection of when you were pulled over,” Simeone explains.
“If the officer reports that you were hostile or said inappropriate things, the judge or prosecutor will be less likely to offer or approve a lesser plea.” (And hey, who knows? A kind and upbeat demeanor may even get you out of the ticket in the first place!)
Don’t reach for your license before telling the officer what you’re doing
To a police officer approaching a vehicle, sudden hand movements can be perceived as a possible threat. That means reaching for items before you’re prompted to do so – even if it’s just your license and registration—is a potentially life-threatening move, says Fred Brewington of The Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington in Hempstead, New York.
Don’t move your hands out of sight.
Generally, Simeone strongly suggests keeping your hands where the officer can see them. “Police officers are often nervous when they approach a car – they do not know the intentions of the occupants or whether they have any weapons,” he explains. “So, keep your hands on the steering wheel or otherwise in sight.”