Briefing Room: Here is what you should do if an officer pulls you over

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Frequently we get questions about what drivers should do when getting pulled over by the police. We know that nobody likes to get pulled over, and that it can be a nerve-racking experience for any driver.

It isn’t just drivers that get nervous during a traffic stop. According to the FBI’s data involving Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (https://ucr.fbi.gov/leoka/), in 2019, more officers were feloniously killed during traffic enforcement stops than any other type of investigative or enforcement activities. When you get pulled over, you know it is a police officer stopping you, but the officer has absolutely no idea who is in the car. Aside from assaults on officers, other traffic also puts officers in risk of being accidentally hit by passing vehicles.

So what can you to do make sure that everyone is safe when you get pulled over? When you see those red and blue lights in your rearview mirror, first turn on your hazard lights.

This will let the officer know that you have acknowledged him or her, and are aware of the stop. You should then try to find a safe place to pull over.

Please consider the safety of the officer. Try to find a place that is away from traffic and well lit. However, don’t drive for miles looking for the perfect place to stop, and drive slowly so that we know you are not trying to evade us. You’ll likely hear the officer using the public address system to direct you to a place where they want you to stop. Follow their directions.

Once your car is stopped, STAY IN THE CAR. I cannot stress how important this is. I’ve had many people quickly jump out of the car and walk toward me when they are pulled over. This is a frightening experience for us, because we don’t know if you’re coming out to chat, or because you want to hurt us. Just stay in the car and the officer will approach you.

Also, please turn off your car, roll all the windows down, turn on your interior or dome lights (if at night), and keep your hands on the steering wheel. Please don’t go fishing for your documents in the glove box, under the seat, a purse or bag, or anywhere else. This makes us nervous because we don’t know if you are reaching for a weapon. At some point, the officer will likely ask for your driver license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. You are required by law to present these documents to any police officer during a traffic stop. If those items are in a purse or glove box, let the officer know where they are before reaching for them. Simply say something like “Officer, my insurance is in the glove box. I’m going to reach for it.” Then do it slowly and deliberately. Return your hands to the steering wheel immediately after.

Please remain calm. If you remain calm during the stop, generally we will remain calm as well. I know that getting a traffic ticket is not on the top of anyone’s list of fun things, but please just try to relax as much as possible. We are trained to pick up on other people’s anxiety and stress.

Lastly, in the event that the officer issues you a traffic ticket, please just sign it. By signing the ticket, you are not admitting guilt, just promising to either pay the fine, or appear in court to contest the violation. If you disagree with the citation, arguing at the roadside will not help your case. The officer will show up in court and you can provide your testimony to the judge or traffic commissioner. At the conclusion of the stop, take another deep breath, and prepare to merge back into traffic. Use your turn signal and watch for oncoming traffic. Take a couple of seconds to prepare your mind to drive safely again.

I sincerely hope that you don’t get pulled over, but if you do, please try to keep these things in mind. The safety of all those involved is our top priority.   

If you have questions, please email them to me at askacop@sealbeachca.gov! Thanks Seal Beach.

Briefing Room: Here is what you should do if an officer pulls you over