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Negotiating a Traffic Stop

Updated on July 11, 2013

Being Stopped

No one wants to speak with a cop unless they called them. This is a fact of life, even other police officers feel a sense of dread when, in a personal vehicle, they recognize the most unwanted presence in the universe, the patrol car. An experience more excruciating than a dentist visit, the surprise encounter with the law. At least you have time to prepare for the dentist visit scheduled sometimes months before it occurs. But a traffic stop is like a slap in the face, sudden and unwanted.

The best way to survive a traffic stop unscathed is to not be stopped. To do this you must drive as though you are taking the DMV test to get your drivers license. For starters the vehicle must be in perfect operating condition with all lights and signals working correctly and a valid license plate. Then all of these parts must be utilized to the fullest effect including signaling, proper speed control and maneuvering. Following all the rules is essential, for instance, the three second rule. If the car in front of you passes a pole or light start counting, one one thousand two one thousand and so on. if you reach the obstacle before you get past three one thousand you are following to close. Since absolutely no one follows this rule, everyone can be stopped. You do not need to be driving at 85mph waving a gun around while throwing drugs out of the window to be stopped. And I'll bet my retirement no one follows every rule and law when driving.

Contrary to popular belief, the odds are 99% in favor of you being responsible for the stop. Police do not sit waiting for you to appear. Even in a small town the odds of an officer waiting for you specifically are astronomical. Most people live in moderately populated areas of 10,000 or more, to think an officer targeted you specifically is ridiculous. So for the sake of argument, let's say you did something wrong. What to do next? Follow some simple common sense protocols and you should be fine, ticket or no ticket.

What to Do...

When an officer signals you to stop, stay calm and assess the surroundings, what lane are you in, is there a vehicle between you and the side of the road, where's the best place to pull over for your safety and that of the officer/s. Try to find a lit parking lot or at least a lit area and use your turn signal so the officer understands your intent. Panic and indecision make for erratic behavior which in turn gives most officers pause as to what you are trying to do. Try not to look as though you are stalling in order to make a different decision, this will cause you more pain in the end. Be decisive, find a spot, signal and pull over.

Once stopped place your car in park, apply the parking break, roll down the window and place both hands on the steering wheel. A calm safe appearance will go a long way in easing any anxiety the officer may be feeling and can only improve your chances of good treatment. Remember, first impressions are everything. Do not start out defensive or arrogant with commands and questions. It may sound good in your head but a direct challenge to the authority and authenticity of someone in an authoritative position may not be a good course of action. You may as well scream through a slightly cracked window "go ahead and ticket me A-hole I got people", Which usually Is followed with any number of citations and a lot of unnecessary pain on your part, pain in the wallet.

Keep it simple. Have license and registration ready, a person digging around in a glove box with an officer standing outside the window makes the officer nervous and on edge. Do this before they approach, it may look suspicious but can be easily explained. Most people look in the glove box for paperwork.

Be friendly, yes sir/mam, no sir/mam and answer any questions no matter how odd they may seem to you. There is a method to the madness and you have no idea why they stopped you or what they are investigating. You also have no idea what or where the officer just came from. Your mood can help change theirs. If not, be nice and take what you get, this will help if you ever go in front of a judge. The time to air grievances with the officer is after the stop with his/her supervisor or a judge. Not during the stop with the officer. Officers are people and thus susceptible to human emotion and ill treatment of others. Either way, a confrontation on the side of the road will never benefit you, EVER.

The officer should and will do the following. They will greet you and identify themselves, tell you why you were stopped and ask for license and registration, not necessarily in that order. Comply, once the officer is done thank them politely and leave the same way you stopped. Using caution and signaling your intentions.

What now....

If the officer tells you things are good and you are being warned, smile and go about your business counting your blessings. Remember, if you did absolutely nothing wrong the odds are you would not have been stopped. If you received a citation or citations, smile and be courteous and go about your business. Your day to dispute the citation/s is listed on them, not that very moment.

Any number of things can happen now, you can mail in the fine, consult an attorney or go to court. Unless it is a major violation you can go to court on your own. Attorneys are always a good idea but expensive. Weigh the options and worth. The only time you should mail in the fine is in a case where you have the lowest possible charge and fine. Otherwise go to court, at the very least an admission of guilt usually results in the lowering of the charge and fine. IF you are lucky it will not affect your insurance. If you feel you were wronged you can demand a trial. Trials differ from state to state, some have juries others judges. But if you wish, you do have the chance to face your accuser and argue your side.

Guilty or not the court will decide and in many cases where departments have high turnover rates your accuser may not be there. This is luck of the draw, if no officer appears to dispute your claim of innocence you are not guilty by default. Do not plead guilty without the officer present. The judge will ask you to plea even with no accuser, so plead not guilty. Win or lose you asserted your rights. Once it's all done, move on and drive safely.


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