This morning driving down the road a young man in a convertible Mazda Miata passed me at a high rate of speed. As he passed me, we were approaching a red light and he made a right hand turn without stopping on red. Immediately, a police officer that was stopped on the red light coming from the opposite direction turned on his emergency lights and siren and chased the young man and conducted his traffic stop.
What should you do if you are stopped by a police officer?
1. First and foremost is safety. Police officers are generally paranoid that they are going to get shot and if the officer is nervous and you are careless it is the perfect equation for you to get shot at. What I recommend is to have your registration and insurance cards readily available so you do not have to search for them in your glove box which is a common place where people store their firearms. One good place to place your cards is clipped to your sun visor; they will be readily available and visible. Second make sure that you are visible to the police officer. Always have your hands visible to him or her. In the police academy every police officer is taught that hands kill; meaning that they must always watch the person's hands because that is where they can have a weapon. Therefore, make sure that the officer can see your hands. Two easy ways to achieve this is by either placing your hands on the steering wheel or on the window area of your vehicle. Additionally, you should lower all of your car windows, turn on your interior lights if its nighttime and park in a safe lighted area preferably (For instance, pull into a gas station). And whatever movement you will make be sure to do so very slowly and inform the officer beforehand. For example, if you need to get your drivers license, inform the officer "Officer, I am going to grab my driver's license for you, is that ok?" then very slowly with two fingers grab your driver's license and give it to the officer
2. Politeness goes a long way. Generally the officer will approach the vehicle. You should say, "Good morning officer", "Good Evening Sir", "Good Afternoon". Any of those greetings is good. The officer will then ask you why you think he stopped you in an attempt to get you to admit your violation. My answer is not to admit anything but rather to reply, "I am not sure sir" or "I don't know officer". He will then tell you that you took the stop sign or that you were speeding etc. This is the area where most people make the mistake of arguing with the cop. NEVER EVER ARGUE WITH A POLICE OFFICER!!! They have the power to issue you the traffic ticket. Most police officers are type A personalities and they want to win at everything that they do. Therefore, if you challenge the police officer as to what happened he or she will try everything in their power to prove you wrong. However, if you apologize to the police officer and say for instance, "Officer I am sorry about that I did not realize that I took the stop sign" or "I apologize about that, it was not my intention I just have been under a lot of stress lately (insert whatever excuse that applies to you)" then the officer has nothing to prove against you and he or she most likely will try to help you instead; either by giving you a warning or writing you up for a lesser offense or even just writing a note that you were a pleasant person and that he did not have any problems with you. If you believe the officer was wrong, you can always say, "Officer, I may be wrong but I thought that I did stop at the stop sign can you help me understand better what I did wrong because I am confused." This way you are not arguing with the cop but rather you are politely showing him or her your point of view. A lot of times I defend traffic tickets in court and the police officer tells me that the customer was really nasty to them and this makes my job a lot harder because the officer will not be as helpful to me. Additionally in some courthouses the judge may sometimes ask the police officer if the driver gave him any problems and depending on what the cop says your penalty may be harsher.
3. Don't Pay the Traffic Ticket. If you pay the traffic ticket you are very likely to get points on your drivers license (making your insurance to go up) and these points never leave your driver's license record. It is generally much better to go to court for your traffic ticket. You can either ask for court yourself, but you will have to attend court at least one time and if you miss your court date you will have your driver's license suspended. Or you can hire an experienced attorney who goes to court on your behalf and he or she can make legal arguments to dismiss your traffic tickets.
Therefore, the moral of the story is to try not to break the law, but if you do, think first of safety, be polite and take your traffic ticket to court.
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