This article addresses the steps that you should take when you are pulled over. If you follow these steps, the nerve-wracking and anxiety-producing unpleasantness of the experience should be minimized.
The information in this article comes from a variety of sources, including my own way-to-many personal experiences of getting pulled over.
Step One: When you see an emergency vehicle behind you, pull over to the RIGHT side of the road and stop as soon as it reasonable and safe to do so. It does not matter if it is a police car, fire truck or ambulance, the law requires you to pull to the right and stop when an emergency vehicle is behind you and is displaying its emergency lights. This does not mean that you have to stop in the right travel lane if there is no shoulder. You should proceed to place where the officer and you will be safe. If the emergency vehicle passes you, you may proceed. Do not forget to use your turn signal and turn on your flashers when you have stopped.
Step Two: Keep your hands on the steering wheel. If you have electric windows it may be a good idea to punch the down button as soon as you pull over so you can hear anything the officer says as he or she approaches. If you have manual window cranks, you may want to wait for an instruction to roll down the window so the officer can see exactly what you are doing with your hands. An officer will feel a lot safer and more comfortable with you if they know where your hands are. If they can’t see your hands, they are not going to know if you are trying to hide something, or reaching for a weapon. Please note that you can’t keep your hands on the steering wheel if you are trying to get out of your car. Do not get out of your car unless instructed to do so by the police officer.
Step Three: Wait for instructions. The officer will tell you what he or she would like you to do. If the officer wants to see your license, they will ask for it. At this point you are going to have to move your hands to comply. The best practice is to let the officer know that you are going to be digging in your pocket or purse for your license. This is also true for your registration and insurance card, let them know where it is. I knew a guy once that was pulled over while he was on his way to officiate a high school track meet. He kept the starter pistol in the glove box. When the officer asked for the registration, the guy popped open the glove box, revealing the starter pistol. The guy was lucky to survive! If you have a starter pistol in the glove box, you may want to let the officer know before you reach in there for the registration certificate.
More information to make your next traffic stop easier:
Plan ahead. Be prepared. You know that your vehicle needs to be registered and insured and that you need proof of that when you are driving. Make sure it is in the car. I have had many clients tell me that they were pulled over in someone else’s car and did not know that the vehicle was not registered or insured. The only thing I can tell them is that they should have checked before getting in the car and driving it down the street. Other clients tell me that they had insurance, but they could not find the current proof to show the officer. The no proof of insurance charge is easily dealt with by showing proof of insurance to the court. However, in every single case where a client has received a ticket for no proof of insurance, that particular charge is always the second charge listed on the ticket. Why? Because that is not why they were pulled over in the first place and the officer has to show the court that there was probable cause for the stop, so they have to include at least one other charge on the ticket. In some of those cases, if the client had their paperwork straight when they were pulled over, they may have been let off with a warning for the original charge.
Be polite. There are some exceptions, but most police officers could care less what you think of them personally. However, by using phrases like, “yes sir” or “no ma’am” it lets the officer know that you respect them and are less likely to try to harm them. On the other hand, when an officer is just trying to do their job and you are cursing at them and saying bad things about their mother, they are more likely to see you as a threat.
Try an apology. In some cases, if you are sincere and apologize for your infraction the officer may let you off with a warning. Do not try that with a Las Vegas Metropolitan Motorcycle Officer. As far as I can tell, motorcycle officers have only two jobs, one is to investigate accidents and the other is to hand out tickets. Furthermore, I am certain that motorcycle officers have a quota of tickets that they have to write. If they let you off, they will have to work extra hard to fill that quota and that just isn’t going to happen. An apology could be construed as an admission of guilty. If they caught you red handed doing something you were not supposed to do, you may not have anything to lose. On the other hand, if you are not sure why you were stopped, you may want to forgo any apology.
Watch what you say. Don't speak first. Especially don't start off with a defensive or hostile "What's the problem?" or similar words. Let the officer start talking. The officer might start by asking you the sort of question whose lack of a definite answer would imply guilt, like, "Do you know why I stopped you?" Or, he or she might ask, "Do you know how fast you were going?" Your answers, if any, should be non-committal and brief, like a simple "No, I don’t know why you pulled me over" or a very confident, "Yes, I do know how fast I was going." If the officer then tells you how fast he or she thinks you were going or what he or she thinks you did, don't argue. Give a noncommittal answer, like, "I see," or no answer at all. Silence is not an admission of guilt and cannot be used against you in court.
Don’t do anything stupid. There are a number of things you can do to make a simple traffic stop and minor traffic ticket much, much worse, all of which should go without saying. Don’t panic, don’t run, don’t threaten or try to fight the officer, don’t throw anything out the window or reach under the seat of the car for any reason. In general, just don’t do anything stupid.
If you want to be sure that you never give an officer cause to pull you over, ride the bus. If you get pulled over and receive a ticket, contact Attorney Joseph R. Maridon, Jr., the LV Traffic Ticket Guy!