What to Expect During a Traffic Stop
I, myself, have been pulled over by law enforcement so I understand how it can be a very anxious situation for many people. Personally, when I saw those red and blue flashing lights behind me, I instantly felt my heart beat increase and it became difficult to breathe normally.
Getting pulled over is not something we plan for, or look forward to, so when it happens, panic naturally sets in. You immediately start wondering where you should stop and if you remembered to put away your vehicle registration in the glove compartment, and you hope your ID card is in your wallet or purse, where it should be.
I hope this blog will give you a little insight on what you should expect during a traffic stop and what you should do to have things go smoothly.
Traffic Stops Can Be Stressful Situations for the Officer As Well
What you might not know is that the officer pulling you over is also feeling uneasy. There is an inherent level of uncertainty in every traffic stop and every interaction is different, which is why officers take precautions to keep themselves and the driver as safe as possible. Even so, traffic stops can be one of the most dangerous duties a patrol officer can perform.
FBI Statistics (January-September 2021)
- 59 police officers, including two special FBI agents, were killed in the line of duty.
- 44,421 officers were assaulted without a weapon (hands, fists, or feet), with 25.8% of these officers being injured.
- 2,744 officers were assaulted with firearms with 6.1% of these officers being injured.
- 1,180 officers were assaulted with knives or other cutting instruments with 9.7% of these officers being injured.
- 11,760 officers were assaulted with other types of dangerous weapons with 16.8% of these officers being injured.
Why Law Enforcement Officers Conduct Pullovers
Traffic stops are one of the most frequent duties of a patrol officer. They are conducted when an officer has witnessed or suspects the driver or vehicle has committed or been involved in a traffic violation or criminal act.
Traffic Stop Risk Categories
All traffic stops fall into one of the two risk categories – unknown-risk and high-risk.
Traffic stops that fall into the unknown risk category are related to traffic or equipment violations or suspicious activity reports. The reason they are categorized as unknown-risk is because the officer has no prior information about the driver. It can be an ordinary individual who broke a traffic law, or a parole at large who is armed and ready and willing to assault the officer making the traffic stop.
Traffic stops that go into the high-risk category are those that potentially involve criminal activity such as a vehicle that matches the description of one that has been reported stolen or used in a crime. During these types of stops, the officer will stop a considerable distance behind the vehicle and will have the driver and passenger(s) exit and walk back to them. This gives the officer the opportunity to evaluate the intentions of the occupants in the safest manner as possible.
What To Do and Expect During A Traffic Stop
If an officer requests that you pull over, stay calm and find the nearest safest place to stop on the right side of the road. If you are on the freeway, it’s possible the officer will ask you to exist the off-ramp if they deem it necessary for both your safety and theirs.
If you have your radio on, it is important you turn it down so you can hear any instructions the officer may be providing over the loud speaker.
Once you come to a stop, turn off your car, roll down your windows, and keep your hands on the steering wheel. This will indicate to the officer that you are not a threat and are willing to comply with instructions.
The officer will exit their vehicle, and approach you from the safest side of the vehicle. As a safety measure, if it’s dark out, the officer will shine their spotlight or flashlight to illuminate the inside of the vehicle.
They will ask to see your driver’s license, registration and proof of auto insurance. If these documents are on your person or stored somewhere in your vehicle, let the deputy know before you reach for them. After you hand your documents to the officer, they will return to their vehicle to verify that they are valid and current.
If they have not told you the reason for the traffic stop by this point, I encourage you to ask them when they return your documents. If they do not answer right away, don’t be upset. They will let you know before they conclude the traffic stop.
What an Officer Hears, Sees and Smells Can Come Into Question
One thing to keep in mind during a traffic stop is that everything an officer hears, sees and smells can come into question. For example, if someone is pulled over for a traffic violation but there is an open container of alcohol, a simple citation will change to an investigation of possible drinking while driving or maybe being under the influence. The same goes if they smell alcohol or marijuana coming from the vehicle.
Do Not Argue with the Officer
If you disagree with the officer’s decision or course of action, do not argue with them. The right time and place to challenge the charge on your citation is on your court day.
You Must Sign the Citation
If you receive a citation, be sure to sign it. Your acceptance of, and signature on, a traffic ticket is not an admission of guilt. However, the refusal to sign a traffic ticket may result in your arrest.
Immigration Status is Irrelevant During a Traffic Stop
Law enforcement is not in the business of immigration. Actually, in my 23 years as a Sheriff’s deputy, I’ve never asked anyone about their immigration status. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Policy 05-09/271.00 states “Department members shall not initiate police action with the objective of discovering an individual’s immigration status.” The policy goes on to state that officers will not inquire about an individual’s immigration status and will not forward any information to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. However, if you are an unlicensed driver, you might get a ticket for driving without a license (Violation 12500 CVC) which is a traffic infraction.
That’s it for this month’s blog. I encourage you to check out the corresponding leaflet and to share it with family members and friends. As always, if you have any public safety-related questions or concerns you want to share with the City or our local sheriff’s station, or if you have suggestions for topics to cover in this blog, be sure to let me know using the Ask a Deputy feature.
PDF Copy of the Leaflet
As always, if you have any public safety-related questions or concerns you want to share with the City or our local sheriff’s station, or if you have suggestions for topics to cover in this blog, be sure to let me know using the online Ask a Deputy form.
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