| Driving
an illustration showing a car being pulled over by a police officer

Your taillights go out. You miss a speed limit sign. You’re driving somewhere unfamiliar and make an illegal turn. Even if you’re determined to drive carefully, it’s possible to slip up behind the wheel. To help prevent a minor infraction from becoming a potentially stressful scenario, learn what to do if you’re pulled over by the police. With this knowledge, you should be able to navigate a routine traffic stop like a pro.

What to Do If a Cop Pulls You Over

If you’re getting pulled over by a police officer, try to follow these steps to keep the situation from becoming stressful for all parties involved.

Step #1: Turn on your blinker or hazard lights.

The second you see the red and blue flashing lights in your rearview mirror, turn on your blinker or hazard lights. This tells the officer that you acknowledge you’re being pulled over and are simply looking for a place to park your vehicle.

Step #2: Find a safe place to pull over.

It’s crucial that you pull over somewhere safe, according to the ACLU. If the road has a very wide shoulder or there’s a nearby parking lot, use your blinker and pull off. If you’re in an area with an unsafe amount of traffic and not much room to pull over, your hazard lights can let the officer know you see them and are looking for somewhere safe to go. But as soon as you find a satisfactory spot, pull over. You don’t want to keep driving for too long and have the officer think you’re ignoring him or trying to make a run for it.

Step #3: Roll down your window and turn off your car.

Once you’ve pulled your vehicle over, roll down your window and turn off your car, says Nolo. If it’s dark, you should also put on your dome light. Don’t do anything else at this time, as moving around or reaching for things could potentially look threatening to the officer. Simply put your hands on your steering wheel and wait for the officer to come to your window. Do not get out of the vehicle unless you’re instructed to do so.

Step #4: Stay calm!

Getting pulled over is not the end of the world. Take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that it happens to virtually everyone at some point. The more calm, cool, and collected you are, the smoother your interaction with the police officer should go.

Step #5: Be polite.

Whether you believe you did something wrong or not, it’s important to be civil when speaking with a police officer, according to Ticket School. Keep your answers short and simple. Remain calm and courteous. Don’t try to argue your case on the side of the road; it’s not the time or place. The court of law is the place to contest the ticket.

Step #6: When asked for license, registration, and proof of insurance, tell the officer where it is before reaching for it.

Always remember that traffic stops are extremely dangerous for police officers. They’re often met with hostile and angry drivers, and gestures that might seem harmless to you can look like a threat in the eyes of an officer. When they ask for your license and registration, tell them exactly where these documents are located and where you will be reaching. Tell them, for example, “My license is in my bag in the backseat, and my registration is in my glove box,” before you move to grab anything. Rummaging for these documents unannounced before the officer asks can be seen as dangerous, according to Driving Tests.

Step #7: Understand why you were pulled over.

Police officers should inform you why you were pulled over once you’ve given them identification, according to the National Highway Safety Administration. You can also ask why you were stopped or are being ticketed.

Reminder: Be sure to always keep proof of insurance in your car. You can access your proof of insurance with Direct Auto Insurance anytime with our mobile app. Driving without proof of insurance can be an expensive ticket.

Step #8: Sign your ticket, if you receive one.

If you are given a ticket, the police officer will make you sign it before letting you go. If you plan on contesting it in court, don’t worry—signing it doesn’t mean you agree with the ticket, according to the Illinois Bar Association. It is simply an acknowledgment that you were pulled over and received the citation.

Step #9: When merging back into traffic, be extremely careful!

You might be flustered, angry, or upset after being pulled over. Take a few calming breaths and use caution when getting back onto the road. Don’t let your heightened emotions lead to a bigger problem! Make sure to follow safe lane change and merging rules.

What Are Your Rights When You Get Pulled Over?

As we mentioned above, you always want to try to be pleasant and avoid confrontation during a traffic stop. However, it’s also important to know you have rights and make sure nobody infringes upon them. Here are some important things to remember if you’ve ever wondered about your rights when pulled over by police.

You can typically wait to pull over until you feel safe.

When you see the flashing lights behind you, it’s important to pull over as quickly as possible. You are legally obligated to do so. However, if you have doubts about whether the vehicle contains a real police officer or feel unsafe on the immediate stretch of road on your on, relevant authorities in some locations (like the Texas Department of Public Safety and Arkansas State Police) provide guidance on how to proceed carefully until you find a safe spot.

You have the right to remain silent.

As we discussed above, it’s a good idea to politely respond to requests for identification and communicate where you’re reaching for documentation to the officer. However, you don’t have to answer any probing questions, like where you’re coming from or where you’re going, if you don’t want, according to the ACLU.

You can refuse a search.

The Fourth Amendment prevents the government from conducting any searches and seizures that would be deemed “unreasonable” by the law, according to the Office of the U.S. Courts. In other words, an officer generally needs a warrant to search your car unless you give consent, have evidence of wrongdoing in plain view, or give them probable cause to search.

Getting pulled over can be stressful and scary for any driver, and it’s important to be equipped to handle the situation. It’s also important to make sure you always have your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. Call 1-877-GO-DIRECT (1-877-463-4732) today to make sure you’ve got the right auto insurance in case of a traffic stop.