Every driver worries about being stopped by police, whether it’s for something they know they did wrong while driving or a routine traffic stop. No matter the case, being pulled over can be scary, but as long as you follow the law and understand your rights at a traffic stop, you shouldn’t need to be worried.  

That being said, a lot can happen at a traffic stop, and the situation can change suddenly. Here are a few tips to remember to help you understand your rights at a traffic stop. 

During a Stop 

Have Your Documents Ready 

Right when you get pulled over by a police officer, pull out all of your documentation – ID, registration, and insurance – and have it sitting on your dash or the seat next to you. Then place your hands on the wheel or somewhere in plain sight and wait for the officer to approach your vehicle. You don’t want to be reaching around your vehicle when the officer approaches your car. 

Understand why You’re Being Pulled Over 

While you wait, carefully consider why you are being pulled over. The officer will most likely ask you if you know why they are pulling you over. If you are sure you weren’t doing anything wrong, you can say you do not know and ask for a reason. Often in this situation, it may be that you didn’t realize you made a traffic violation, or there is an issue with your vehicle such as expired plates or a taillight out.  

Right To Remain Silent 

During the interaction, you do have the right to remain silent. You do not need to say where you are going, where you’re coming from, what you’re doing, or where you live. You are only legally required to tell the officer your name, and any other information the officer needs will be in your paperwork. Remember, if you choose to remain silent, you must say out loud that you are exercising your right to remain silent 

It’s important to note that while you have the right to remain silent, lying to police officers or providing false documentation is a crime. If you are going to say anything, be honest. Otherwise, exercise your rights! 

Step Out of the Car 

If the police ask you to step out of your vehicle, you can ask why but you should still follow their request. This is a tricky area, but refusing to step out of your car can easily turn into a resisting arrest charge or something similar. While there are some areas where you can refuse a request by an officer to get out of your vehicle, other local or state statutes require you to obey, so it is safer to follow the request. 

As you’re getting out of your car, always keep your hands in plain view and move slowly. If you would like, you can also say what you are doing as you move. For example, say “I’m unbuckling myself so I can step out.” 

Vehicle Search 

According to the ACLU, you do not need to consent to a search of yourself or your vehicle, but the officer may still pat down your clothes. They might also still search your vehicle but voicing your refusal to consent early may help during later court proceedings.  

The only time an officer can legally search your vehicle without consent is if they have probable cause a crime has been (or is being) committed. This includes, but is not limited to possession of drugs, alcohol, or weapons. 

That being said, if you have a weapon in your vehicle, such as a concealed carry, you should let the officer know right away. This should help the interaction if the officer were to see the weapon later on. If it’s a concealed carry weapon or otherwise legal to possess, you should make sure to say that as well. For example, you can say, “I have a concealed carry license and have my handgun on me. Would you like me to remove it?” 

The officer may ask you to hand over your weapon(s) for the duration of the interaction, but if you are properly licensed and legally allowed to carry it, they should give it back as soon as the traffic stop is over. 

Right to Record 

In most states, you are also allowed to record your entire interaction with the policeYou can record with a dashcam, the camera on your phone, or any recording device you have available. If you are holding it in your hand, the officer can ask you to put it down, but you do not need to turn it off.  

If You Are Arrested 

If you are being arrested, you should know what you’re being arrested for, but sometimes the situation can still be confusing. Ask the officer what you are being arrested for and remember that you do have the right to remain silent and not provide additional information. 

Right to A Lawyer 

If you’re ever arrested, including during a traffic stop, you have the right to a government-appointed lawyer. Remember anything you say will be used against you, so you should only request a lawyer or say you are exercising your right to remain silent. 

If you already have a lawyer, you should let the officer know as early as possible and keep requesting to contact that lawyer. 

One Phone Call 

You also have the right to one local phone call (typically once you’ve reached the police station for booking), and it is widely suggested to call a lawyer if you do not have one available already.  

The ACLU stresses one important thing to remember: the police cannot legally listen to your phone call if you’re speaking to a lawyer, but they can and will if you are calling anyone else.

Conclusion 

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it highlights some of the rights you should know in the event of a traffic stop. If you are ever arrested or feel like your rights were violated during a traffic stop, you should always consult with a lawyer as soon as possible. 

In a perfect world, as long as you drive safely and follow the law you shouldn’t ever be stopped by police. However, it does still happen, and there are many reasons for a traffic stop. Just remember to stay calm and exercise your rights. 

Legal Disclaimer

The information in this article is meant for educational purposes only. It is not legal advice and should not be taken as such. Pass Drivers Ed is not responsible for any legal issues that may arise from following the information provided.

Every driver worries about being stopped by police, whether it’s for something they know they did wrong while driving or a routine traffic stop. No matter the case, being pulled over can be scary, but as long as you follow the law and understand your rights at a traffic stop, you shouldn’t need to be worried.  

That being said, a lot can happen at a traffic stop, and the situation can change suddenly. Here are a few tips to remember to help you understand your rights at a traffic stop. 

During a Stop 

Have Your Documents Ready 

Right when you get pulled over by a police officer, pull out all of your documentation – ID, registration, and insurance – and have it sitting on your dash or the seat next to you. Then place your hands on the wheel or somewhere in plain sight and wait for the officer to approach your vehicle. You don’t want to be reaching around your vehicle when the officer approaches your car. 

Understand why You’re Being Pulled Over 

While you wait, carefully consider why you are being pulled over. The officer will most likely ask you if you know why they are pulling you over. If you are sure you weren’t doing anything wrong, you can say you do not know and ask for a reason. Often in this situation, it may be that you didn’t realize you made a traffic violation, or there is an issue with your vehicle such as expired plates or a taillight out.  

Right To Remain Silent 

During the interaction, you do have the right to remain silent. You do not need to say where you are going, where you’re coming from, what you’re doing, or where you live. You are only legally required to tell the officer your name, and any other information the officer needs will be in your paperwork. Remember, if you choose to remain silent, you must say out loud that you are exercising your right to remain silent 

It’s important to note that while you have the right to remain silent, lying to police officers or providing false documentation is a crime. If you are going to say anything, be honest. Otherwise, exercise your rights! 

Step Out of the Car 

If the police ask you to step out of your vehicle, you can ask why but you should still follow their request. This is a tricky area, but refusing to step out of your car can easily turn into a resisting arrest charge or something similar. While there are some areas where you can refuse a request by an officer to get out of your vehicle, other local or state statutes require you to obey, so it is safer to follow the request. 

As you’re getting out of your car, always keep your hands in plain view and move slowly. If you would like, you can also say what you are doing as you move. For example, say “I’m unbuckling myself so I can step out.” 

Vehicle Search 

According to the ACLU, you do not need to consent to a search of yourself or your vehicle, but the officer may still pat down your clothes. They might also still search your vehicle but voicing your refusal to consent early may help during later court proceedings.  

The only time an officer can legally search your vehicle without consent is if they have probable cause a crime has been (or is being) committed. This includes, but is not limited to possession of drugs, alcohol, or weapons. 

That being said, if you have a weapon in your vehicle, such as a concealed carry, you should let the officer know right away. This should help the interaction if the officer were to see the weapon later on. If it’s a concealed carry weapon or otherwise legal to possess, you should make sure to say that as well. For example, you can say, “I have a concealed carry license and have my handgun on me. Would you like me to remove it?” 

The officer may ask you to hand over your weapon(s) for the duration of the interaction, but if you are properly licensed and legally allowed to carry it, they should give it back as soon as the traffic stop is over. 

Right to Record 

In most states, you are also allowed to record your entire interaction with the policeYou can record with a dashcam, the camera on your phone, or any recording device you have available. If you are holding it in your hand, the officer can ask you to put it down, but you do not need to turn it off.  

If You Are Arrested 

If you are being arrested, you should know what you’re being arrested for, but sometimes the situation can still be confusing. Ask the officer what you are being arrested for and remember that you do have the right to remain silent and not provide additional information. 

Right to A Lawyer 

If you’re ever arrested, including during a traffic stop, you have the right to a government-appointed lawyer. Remember anything you say will be used against you, so you should only request a lawyer or say you are exercising your right to remain silent. 

If you already have a lawyer, you should let the officer know as early as possible and keep requesting to contact that lawyer. 

One Phone Call 

You also have the right to one local phone call (typically once you’ve reached the police station for booking), and it is widely suggested to call a lawyer if you do not have one available already.  

The ACLU stresses one important thing to remember: the police cannot legally listen to your phone call if you’re speaking to a lawyer, but they can and will if you are calling anyone else.

Conclusion 

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it highlights some of the rights you should know in the event of a traffic stop. If you are ever arrested or feel like your rights were violated during a traffic stop, you should always consult with a lawyer as soon as possible. 

In a perfect world, as long as you drive safely and follow the law you shouldn’t ever be stopped by police. However, it does still happen, and there are many reasons for a traffic stop. Just remember to stay calm and exercise your rights. 

Legal Disclaimer

The information in this article is meant for educational purposes only. It is not legal advice and should not be taken as such. Pass Drivers Ed is not responsible for any legal issues that may arise from following the information provided.

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