If you or someone you’re driving with is stopped by the police, it’s important to navigate the situation as swiftly and safely as possible. You can help protect yourself and others by communicating your rights and cooperating with law enforcement.
Being Pulled Over
When driving a car, a police officer may pull you over for a variety of different reasons. The only standard that the police need to meet in order to make an investigatory stop is reasonable suspicion that a traffic violation or crime has been committed. You may have violated a traffic law, been driving an unregistered vehicle, or have an equipment violation (like a broken headlight or a cracked windshield).
Regardless of why you’re being stopped, don’t run or resist. Instead, stay calm and pull over as soon as it is safe to do so. Next, turn off the car, turn on the cabin light, and roll down the window. Stay in the vehicle, keep your hands on the wheel, and refrain from any sudden movements.
You (and your passengers) may be asked to provide your name, date of birth, and address. When asked if you know why you’ve been pulled over, always say no—even if you do. This will help you in the event that you receive a ticket and wish to contest it in court later.
Upon request, show the officer your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. If you need to open the glove box to retrieve any documents, inform the officer of your intent to do so and avoid making any sudden movements. The consequences of driving without insurance vary by state and scenario, but may include fines, vehicle impoundment, license suspension, and even arrest.
If you believe that your rights have been violated, you can reduce risk by voicing your concerns in the courts—not on the streets.
The police may ask for permission to conduct a search of you or your vehicle. The 4th Amendment (Search and Seizures) gives you the right to deny a search—if you choose to invoke this right, say so quickly and clearly. However, if the officer suspects that you may be involved in a crime or that you may have evidence of a crime in your car, they can conduct a search without a warrant. To protect yourself later, remind the officer that you (and your passengers) do not consent to a search. If drugs or weapons are found during the search, the police may confiscate them.
Being Ticketed or Arrested
If you’re given a ticket, be sure to sign it—even if you plan to contest the ticket in court later. Signing your ticket is an acknowledgement that you received it, not an admission of guilt. If you don’t sign your ticket, you can be arrested. If you are arrested, cooperate with the officer’s instructions and ask for a lawyer immediately. Don’t forget, the 5th Amendment (Rights of Persons) gives you the right to remain silent.
Questions & Answers
Can I be arrested for not signing a ticket?
- Yes, you are legally obligated to sign the ticket.
If I’m driving with three of my friends and a police officer pulls me over and asks to search my car, do I have to say yes?
- Short answer is, it depends. If law enforcement sees something in public view or has reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is taking place they can generally search anywhere within the interior of the vehicle.
Do I have to get out of my car if law enforcement asks me to? Do the passengers have to get out of my car, too?
- Generally, yes it’s best to get out of the car when asked.