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What to Do If You Are Pulled Over By the Police

Any police stop has the potential to turn violent. When an officer approaches a stopped vehicle, he or she usually does so without knowing who is in that vehicle or what the driver or passengers will do. Police officers receive training about how to conduct traffic stops and human nature tells them to be on their guard as they approach stopped vehicles. As a result, if a driver or a passenger makes a sudden move, the situation can escalate very quickly.

In recognition of this problem, several states have either enacted or are considering legislation that requires drivers' education courses to provide instruction about how to interact with law enforcement officers. North Carolina is the latest state to propose this type of legislation. Illinois and Virginia have already enacted such requirements, and Mississippi, New Jersey, and Rhode Island are considering them. Perhaps Tennessee should too.

When Flashing Blue Lights Appear in Your Rear-View Mirror

If you are pulled over, the last thing you want is for the stop to escalate into a violent situation. The American Civil Liberties Union has published an article on what to do if you are stopped by the police. We have summarized this information as follows:

  • Find a safe place to pull over, stop as quickly as possible, turn off the engine, and stay calm.
  • Lower the car window. If it's after dark, turn on the interior lights.
  • As the officer approaches, put both hands on the steering wheel where the officer can see them.
  • Don't make any sudden movements.
  • Answer the officer's questions politely and respectfully.
  • If asked for them, provide your driver's license, proof of insurance, and registration.
  • You have the right to remain silent.
  • You do not have to consent to a search of your vehicle. However, if the police believe that the vehicle contains evidence of a crime, they can search it.
  • Ask the officer if you are free to leave. If the answer is yes, say nothing more and leave the scene. If you are arrested, you have the right to ask why and to ask for a lawyer.

If you are arrested, remember that there are defenses to every criminal charge. With an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side, the charge could even be dropped or you could obtain another favorable outcome.