What to Do When You Get Pulled Over

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on January 07, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It doesn't matter how great you are as a driver or how well-maintained your car is, you're likely to get pulled over by police at some point in your driving career.

Your first thought after you see those flashing lights in your rear-view mirror is probably "how can I avoid a ticket?" The first step is knowing what to do when you're pulled over.

The rules regarding traffic stops are the same in most situations. Even if you do get a ticket, knowing what to expect can help you minimize the damage.

As soon as you realize you're being stopped, slowly and carefully pull your car over and turn off the engine. If it's dark out, you can also turn on the dome light to make the process easier and avoid a flashlight in your eyes.

If the officer doesn't immediately let you know why you were pulled over, make sure to ask. Don't offer reasons or assume you know why you were stopped.

In most circumstances, the officer will ask you to produce your license and registration so he can write up a ticket. He'll also run a check on your license to see if you have any previous offenses.

If at any point the officer asks you to step out of the car, ask if you are being arrested. In general, stepping out of the car is a sign the officer may be looking for more evidence.

It may be the officer is asking you to get out of the car to perform a field sobriety test. If that's true, remember you can choose to refuse the tests or Breathalyzer, although in some states that can put your license in danger.

Keep in mind that unlike what Jay-Z says, police do not need a warrant to search your car. What they need is probable cause that your vehicle contains evidence of a crime.

If a police officer asks to search your car, you always have the option to decline. If he insists on searching it, don't ask for a warrant; instead, ask what crime he thinks you've committed. Then ask to speak to an attorney and decline to answer any more questions until your attorney arrives.

One thing you should never do is talk back to an officer or threaten him. Even if you think the officer is violating your rights, try to be polite and calm. Remember to tell your attorney everything that happened later on.

Traffic stops are among the most common types of police interactions with the public, but knowing what to do when you get pulled over can make the process -- and the potential consequences -- a bit easier.

Related Resources:

Copied to clipboard