At some point most drivers will be pulled over by the police. While most traffic stops are mundane and uneventful, failing to fully understand your rights can complicate matters. But what are your rights when those blue and red lights are flashing?
Remain Calm During the Traffic Stop
The best thing you can do during the traffic stop is remain calm. Once police flag you down, pull over as soon as possible, turn off your engine, and keep your hands on your steering wheel. For your safety, and the officer’s, keep your hands visible at all times. Though you may be angry at the situation, do not raise your voice or talk back. Being hostile and angry is incredibly dangerous. You will not win that battle. While you cannot be arrested for arguing, if you take it too far, police can arrest you for threat of assault or disorderly conduct.
Police Can Pull You Over for Only “Reasonable Suspicion”
Despite the myth that police officers can only pull you over with probable cause, the reality is that they only need reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop. But what defines reasonable suspicion? Unfortunately, it can be difficult to define. In fact, even the Supreme Court sometimes has trouble clearly outlining what it exactly entails. Because of that, remember that if a cop suspects you of something, they can legally pull you over to investigate further. For the most part, these stops on reasonable suspicion only last a few minutes. However, if the officer notices evidence of illegal activity during (such as smelling marijuana or seeing illegal substances), then probable cause comes into the picture.
Police Can Only Search Your Vehicle With a Warrant or “Probable Cause”
In order to search your vehicle, the law requires police officers to obtain a search warrant. However, if an officer senses evidence of a crime being committed, that officer may legally search your car under probable cause. Always remember that probable cause can be called in even minor traffic stops, such as for a broken taillight.
Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent
You are required to give an officer your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance if asked. However, beyond that, you aren’t required to answer the officer’s investigative questions, like “where are you coming from?” or “do you know how fast you were going?” Because everything you say can be used against you, the best course of action is to remain as silent as possible.
You Can Refuse to Take a BAC Test
If pulled over for suspicion of driving while intoxicated (DWI), police will ask you to take a breathalyzer or blood draw test. You can refuse to take any of these tests, but there are some disadvantages of doing so. If you refuse to take the test, you will need to sign a statement that says that you understand the consequences of refusing. In addition, the evidence of your refusal can be used against you in court, and your license will be suspended.
You Are Required to Exit the Car If Asked
During most traffic stops, police officers prefer that you stay in your car, with your hands visible. However, there are circumstances where an officer may ask you to step outside the vehicle. In those circumstance, the law requires that you comply. If you’re asked to step outside, calmly get out of your vehicle with you hands visible at all times.
You Can Record the Entire Incident
The law allows you to record the entire traffic stop on your personal recording device. If you feel the need to record the stop, respectfully tell the officer that you are doing so. Never shove the camera in an officer’s face. Doing so only escalates tensions. Also, an unfamiliar recording device unexpectedly pulled out from a pocket may be interpreted as a weapon.