What should I do if I am stopped by the police?

By Scott Davidson from United States (Police Car Lights) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Imagine that you are driving in your car. Suddenly, you see blue lights behind you. The police want you to pull over (stop on the side of the road). When this happens, most people are nervous or scared. You might be confused or worried. These are normal feelings. Try to remember two important things in that moment:

  1. The police officer’s job is to keep us safe.
  2. The police officer has a dangerous job, so he/she is probably a little anxious (worried/nervous about what will happen) too.

Here is some more advice about what you should do when you are stopped by the police:

  • Stay calm.
  • As soon as you see the police emergency lights or hear the siren (the sound an emergency vehicle makes), you should slow down and stop your car at the first safe location off the road. Do not stop in the middle of the road. Use the shoulder (the area beside the road, not for walking), or go into a parking lot.
  • Stay in your car and wait for the officer to come to you. Do NOT get out of your car. You should only get out of the car if the officer asks you to do so. Getting out of your car does not help the officer. In fact, he/she might think that you are going to attack. For everyone’s safety, stay in your car.
  • If you are stopped at night, turn on the inside lights in your car.
  • Keep your hands in a place where the officer can see them. Your steering wheel is a good place.
  • Don’t make any sudden movements, such as reaching under the seat or into the back seat or glove box. You may need to get something, but wait for the officer to ask for it, and then do it calmly.
  • If you have weapons in your car, tell the officer of the location immediately. Do not reach or point to the location.
  • When the officer arrives at your car, he/she will tell you of the purpose of the stop. He/she will then ask you for some information. When the officer asks to see your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance, this is normal. Stay calm, and find your license, registration card, and insurance card.
  • Answer all questions honestly.
  • The officer might decide to give you a citation (ticket) for a traffic violation. The best time to explain your actions is before he/she writes the citation.
  • If the officer asks you to sign a citation, sign it. Your signature does not say, “I agree that I am guilty.” It only says, “I received this citation.” The officer will explain what you can do next.
  • Do not be mean, rude, or threatening to the officer.
  • If you feel that you are innocent, you should go to court on your court date to talk to a judge about the charges. The side of the road is not the place to argue.

But my English is not good!

If you are worried about your level of English, I understand. Don’t worry. If you speak Spanish, many police officers can communicate with you in your language. If you speak a language that the police officer does not understand, he/she can call an interpreter. If an interpreter is not available, the officer will work hard to make sure that you understand why he/she stopped you, what you did wrong, and what you can do next.