You’re traveling at 22 miles over the speed limit and suddenly you notice a police officer’s vehicle parked well off the roadway. Your heart skips a beat and immediately your mind starts racing, wondering whether the officer noticed you speeding. In your rear-view mirror, you see the officer turn on his signal to re-enter traffic. At this point, unless there were other vehicles speeding or you’re incredibly lucky, you’re certainly going to be pulled over. Regardless of why the officer is pulling you over—whether it is for speeding, a red light violation or failure to wear a seat belt—there are some simple things you should and should not do that will help you get through a stressful traffic stop.

Remain Calm and Do Not Panic

Traffic stops are the most common reason for a citizen to have contact with the police. Unless you’re hauling drugs or weapons, or committing some other serious crime, you will get through this with a simple citation or ticket. Obviously, a strong distrust for police officers makes remaining relaxed easier said than done. If you fall into this category, prior to the officer’s approach and only after stopping your vehicle, simply activate the voice recording application on your smartphone. Put your phone away before the officer approaches. Most importantly, remember: a routine traffic stop is a local municipality generating revenue and, as such, stressing out is often unnecessary because, at worst, you will end up losing money—not your freedom.

Surprise the Police Office

Before the police office has an opportunity to activate his/her emergency lights and initiate the traffic stop, acknowledge that he/she going to pull you over. Simply turn on your signal and begin pulling over to the shoulder lane or any alternative safe location. Do this safely but quickly. The goal is to surprise and impress the officer with your willingness to accept what is surely going to happen. It’s rare that a police officer witnesses someone do this and, as such, your inevitable traffic stop is already off to a good start. Obviously, this only applies to situations where a driver knows they were breaking the law and should expect to be pulled over. In any scenario, however, you should always follow the above steps when pulling over. Remember though that after pulling over, for safety reasons, immediately turn on your hazard lights and turn off your engine.

Be Smart and Use Common Sense

Believe it or not, police officers are naturally cautious individuals who assume the worst to prevent the worst. Hate them or love them, their carefulness is rational and should be respected. You must prevent the officer from becoming any more cautious than he/she naturally is. You can do this by following five simple rules:

  1. Stay in your car with your seatbelt fastened.
  2. Roll down your window.
  3. Place your hands on top of the steering wheel.
  4. Sit quietly.
  5. Patiently wait for the officer to approach. If you’re paying attention, you should not be fishing through your glove box for your registration, insurance or anything else. Remember, a nervous cop is a dangerous cop.

As mentioned above, traffic stops are designed to generate money for the city, town or village. Police officers are merely a means to that end. Some police officers take their jobs more seriously than others but you must treat them all the same. Here are some guidelines:

  • Refer to the officer as "Sir" or "Ma'am"
  • Maintain a conversational tone
  • Maintain eye contact when speaking
  • Actually listen to the officer when he/she is speaking
  • Do not argue. Bottom line: police officers aren’t your enemy; they're just doing their job. Remember though, be polite but not stupid. When speaking to the officer, avoid any admission to breaking the law.

Provide Documentation

As mentioned above, police officers are mostly concerned with their own safety. Wait for the police officer to ask for your driver’s license, registration and insurance before frantically moving around in your vehicle looking for them. If you’re not sure where to look, tell the officer first and then ask for permission to look. If you know their location, simply advise the officer and wait for his/her permission to obtain them. If you are missing any or all of these documents, sincerely apologize to the officer and hope for the best (there’s not much you can do).

Save it for the Court

Now the officer will have a decision to make. The officer will either issue you a ticket or give you a warning. Trust me, after being yelled at, argued with and disrespected by so many other drivers, your chances of receiving only a warning have increased tremendously. At the end of the day, you’ve done everything you can do but the officer may still issue you a ticket. If this happens, you must continue to be polite. Chances are that you will see this officer again—in court.

At this point, there is nothing else you can do. Right or wrong, the side of a road is no place to argue with the officer. Save your arguments for court. Plead not guilty and aim to get the best deal you can get. Hiring an experienced traffic lawyer will likely make this task easier but an attorney is not always necessary, especially if you’ve followed the advice above. If not, you’re going to need help. If you remember only one thing though, remember this: never plead guilty!