Many drivers will be pulled over and ticketed by the police at least once. It can be an intimidating experience to have a uniformed officer signal for you to pull over and then approach your car. However, much of that intimidation can be eliminated if you know what to expect when you are pulled over.
What the Cops can Do During a Traffic Stop
Police officers should approach your car window and politely ask you for license and registration. The officer should inform you about the reason why you were stopped and should allow you to see his or her badge and photo identification if you so request. If the police officer decides to issue a ticket then you should leave with a copy of that ticket that clearly states the reason why the ticket was issued.
What the Cops cannot Do During a Traffic Stop
Police officers do not have unlimited authority when they stop you for a traffic violation. For example, they may not harass you nor discriminate against you. Additionally, they may not search your car unless they have reason to believe that you are may have ready access to a dangerous weapon, they see evidence of a crime in plain view or they have a validly executed search warrant for your vehicle. Police officers may not require that you pay the ticket at the time that is issued nor that you issue a plea of guilty or not guilty. Any police activity which you believe to be illegal or unethical should immediately be reported to a supervising police officer in your jurisdiction.
What You Should do at the Scene of the Accident
There are several steps that you can take at the scene of the accident to make sure that you protect your rights. First, always be respectful to the police officer even if you politely disagree with the officer. The officer is less likely to listen to your story if you are verbally combative and may take it as a threat to his or her safety which can significantly increase the charges brought against you. Second, do not admit anything to the police officer. If the officer asks you how fast you were going, for example, then you should politely respond that you are not aware of how fast you were travelling. If you admit to speeding it can be used against you in court. Third, make sure that you understand why you are being ticketed. Fourth, if possible take pictures of the scene, even if you need to do this with your cell phone camera. Take note of any weather, traffic or road conditions that you feel contributed to the reason for your ticket. Finally, take the names, addresses and phone number of any witnesses in case you need to contact them in the future.
It is never pleasant to be pulled over by the police. However, with some knowledge about how both you and the officer should act the situation can be less frightening.
The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.