Traffic Stop Safety Tips

All Traffic Stops Are Dangerous

Each year many officers are killed and thousands more are injured while performing traffic related duties. Every stop, even the most common traffic violation, has the potential for danger.

There is no such thing as a “routine traffic stop”.  During traffic stops an officer can come across uninsured drivers, drivers with suspended/revoked driver’s licenses, drivers impaired by alcohol and/or drugs, people in possession of illegal firearms and drugs, and drivers and passengers with arrest warrants.   These are just a few of the reasons why officers are trained to place a great deal of emphasis on their safety and take a defensive posture at a stop until the risk of confrontation or injury is diminished.

What Can You Do if You Are Stopped?

If you are stopped by a police officer, here are some guidelines that both drivers and passengers can follow to help reduce the risk the danger to the officer and get you back on your way. 

  • Always carry proper identification: a valid driver's license, proof of vehicle registration and current proof of insurance.
  • When being signaled by a police officer to stop, look for the nearest place to position your vehicle as far out of the lane of traffic as possible. Generally you should always pull to the right side of the roadway or to where the shoulder is wider, unless otherwise directed. Be sure to signal your move to the side of the roadway by using your turn signal.
  • After you stop, stay in your vehicle and keep your seat belt fastened until the officer has seen you wearing it.  If you are asked to exit the vehicle, do it slowly.
  • Roll down your window all the way, so the officer can communicate with you. 
  • Remain calm, and please stop using your cell phone and/or turn down your vehicle’s radio so that the officer can speak with you. If there are passengers, also ask them to remain quiet and cooperative with all reasonable requests. Please do not let anyone in your vehicle make threatening statements or gestures to the officers.
  • Please understand that there are times when officers have to speak loudly because they are near traffic and other noisy conditions. The officers are not yelling at you or trying to intimidate you. 
  • If it is dark out, you can turn on the interior lights of you vehicle when the stop occurs and before the officer reaches your vehicle so that the officer can easily see that all is in order.
  • You should understand that most officers will use a patrol car's headlights and spotlights during darkness for safety purposes. It helps illuminate the interior of your car.
  • Keep your hands in view, preferably on the steering wheel. Ask your passengers to place their hands in plain view such as on their laps.
  • Do not duck down or make sudden movements, especially toward the floorboard, rear seat, or passenger side of the vehicle. The officer may interpret these movements as an attempt to hide illegal items or to obtain a weapon.
  • Do not immediately reach into your glove box, console pocket, or backseat. Wait for the officer to request your license, registration and proof of insurance. If the documents are out of reach, tell the officer where they are and reach for them slowly. Otherwise, keep your hands on the steering wheel.
  • Give the officer a chance to explain the violation. Most officers are trained to ask for identification and registration first before providing an explanation of the stop. This is to avoid debating the reason for the stop prior to acquiring this necessary information.
  • Answer all questions honestly. Information pertaining to prior arrests or traffic violations is easily verified via the police dispatcher
  • If the charge or citation is not clear, ask for an explanation in a respectful manner.
  • Don’t be alarmed if another police officer arrives at the stop. Police officers often stop to see if the officer needs any assistance during a traffic stop.
  • There is no need to make apologize repeatedly or elaborate on the offense. Simply be civil and polite. If there are any special circumstances surrounding the incident, provide a straight, honest and up-front explanation.
  • Avoid provoking the officer or showing off in front of other occupants. Do not interfere with the questioning or the arresting of other occupants. Comply with the officer first and then, if needed, seek an explanation.
  • Do not argue with the officer at the roadside. If you disagree with the citation or the officer's actions, discuss it later with the law enforcement agency, an attorney, or the judge.