On a typical day, 50,000 drivers are pulled over. That equals over 20 million motorists every year.
Encounters with law enforcement are stressful. But the more you know about your rights, the better prepared you will be if you get pulled over. Drivers must be aware of what police officers can and can’t do at a traffic stop.
We’ve outlined some of our top tips for drivers when being pulled over by police. Let’s explore.
1. Make Safety a Top Priority
If flashing blue lights are behind you, pull over when possible. But don’t disregard your wellbeing. Many people panic and stop their vehicles in unsafe areas.
Turn on your hazard lights and drive a little slower. This tells the police officer you are complying with the request. Continue driving until you find a secure space.
It is your right as a driver to wait to pull over until you feel safe. Choosing a secure area protects you, your passengers, and the police officer from harm.
The best places to pull over are well-lit streets or parking lots. If the officer is driving an unmarked police car, stop where other people are around. You can also call 911, give your location, and verify the vehicle belongs to a police officer.
2. Place Your Hands on the Steering Wheel
Once you have safely pulled over, turn off your ignition. Place both hands on the steering wheel and wait for the officer. By having your hands visible, the cop will know you are not a threat.
Do not get out of the car. That will give the impression you have something to hide.
Roll down your window half-way. Leave enough space to hand any vehicle documentation to the police officer.
If it’s dark, turn on your vehicle’s interior lights. Stay calm while you wait for the officer to approach. Any passengers should remain seated with their hands on their laps.
3. Ask the Police Officer Why You Were Pulled Over
Police officers in Louisiana require reasonable suspicion to pull over drivers. The reasons include speeding, running a traffic light, having a broken taillight, or swerving between lanes (reckless driving). Police officers must inform drivers of the reason they were pulled over.
If an officer asks why you think you were pulled over, you do not have to answer. Instead, claim you are unsure of what you did wrong and ask the cop to explain.
Even if you know you broke the law, you do not need to confess. The Fifth Amendment states that a citizen may remain silent. An officer cannot force you to answer questions or admit wrongdoings without being in a court of law.
4. Give Documentation Once Asked
Do not supply the officer with your ID, license, or registration until he or she has asked. The officer must first explain why you have been pulled over before requesting documentation.
Don’t attempt to speed up the process by handing over your documents as soon as the cop approaches your vehicle. Do not take your hands off the steering wheel until the officer requests that you do. Reaching into your car could be misinterpreted as a sign of aggression or an attempt to hide evidence.
Once the cop explains why you are being pulled over and asks for your documents, supply your state license, proof of insurance, and vehicle registration.
5. Be Polite
While you do not have to answer the officer’s questions or confess to wrongdoing, you should be respectful and polite.
If the incident was minor, you know you broke the law, and you don’t plan on fighting the ticket, apologize for your wrongdoing. Saying “I’m sorry” can be the difference between a hefty fine and a warning.
Conversely, a police officer may be pulling you over to issue a warning, but rude behavior can be the reason for a ticket instead. Talking to cops may be frustrating, but try to remain calm and collected.
Cooperate as much as possible. If you don’t agree with the traffic stop and plan on taking the incident to court, remain polite. Any aggression, frustration, and foul language can escalate the situation and make you appear suspicious of other crimes.
6. Record All Encounters
You may record your encounter with police using a dash camera. If you are recording, let the police officer know immediately.
Most states allow anyone to record police officers (as long as you don’t interfere with their work), but some states require all parties to consent. In Louisiana, it’s legal to record police officer encounters.
If you are using a dashcam, make sure you follow all of the protocols in your state. Some regions restrict dashboard camera placements because they obstruct the driver’s view.
Don’t use your camera as a weapon. Just turn it on, let the officer know everything will be recorded, and continue as normal. The footage can be used later to ensure both parties complied with the law.
7. Don’t Forget You Can Deny a Vehicle Search
Police do not need a warrant to search your car in New Orleans. However, they need to have reasonable cause. The officer may search your car if they see or smell anything in plain view.
If you do not feel a vehicle search is necessary, tell the officer that you do not consent to the search.
If you have been pulled over within reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, the police may search the passenger compartment and front region of the vehicle. But if the officer does not have probable cause, he or she may not conduct a full vehicle search without your consent.
Have You Been Wrongly Pulled Over?
Police officers are here to protect citizens and keep roads safe. However, sometimes the proper protocols are not followed. That’s when we step in.
If you feel that you have been wrongly pulled over, let our team help. We protect our client’s criminal records and ensure law enforcement officials are not abusing their power.
Contact us to learn more about what our expert lawyers can do. We have offices in New Orleans, Covington, and Shreveport for your convenience. Barkemeyer Law Firm is a top-notch criminal law firm near you that you can count on to answer any and all of your questions.