Busted! Know Your Traffic Stop Etiquette

Being a volunteer Reserve Officer in the Traffic Division at a local law enforcement agency in Colorado is a very rewarding aspect of my life but also a very dangerous one. I wanted to share some tips in case you are ever in the unfortunate situation of being pulled over for a traffic stop.

First things first – each year, many officers are injured from other motorists while conducting a “routine” traffic stop. The most common issue officers face is distracted drivers; motorists become mesmerized by the flashing lights on the squad cars, especially at night, and accidentally hit the officer, causing injury. Please move over to the next lane of traffic if it is safe to do so!

Now, should you find that an officer has activated his/her emergency lights and siren and is attempting to pull you over, follow these tips to ensure everybody’s safety:

  • Acknowledge the command promptly. Signal that you are going to pull over and do so as soon as you can safely manage.
  • Pull off the road as far as possible or pull into the nearest driveway or parking lot. This demonstrates a concern for the officer’s safety.
  • You should turn off your vehicle, but you can leave the keys in the ignition.
  • After you have stopped your vehicle, remain inside and wait for the officer to approach you. Any sudden movement, whether the door or people in the car, can make an officer uneasy so tell your passengers to remain seated.
  • If you are stopped after dark, it’s encouraged that you turn on the interior dome light of your vehicle.
  • Try to have your license and registration ready when the officer gets to the car to avoid having to lean over and dig around in the glove compartment – that makes us nervous too.
  • In states that allow concealed carry, calmly advise the officer that you have a weapon in the vehicle and show your concealed carry permit.
  • BE POLITE. Sarcasm and/or crying will not help your situation.
  • BE PATIENT. Once an officer has collected all the pertinent information from you, he or she will likely return to the police car. The officer has a protocol to follow during a traffic stop which includes a search for outstanding warrants and verification of your identity, so there may be a bit of a delay before they return.
  • If the officer issues you a traffic citation, listen carefully to what he or she says and ask questions if needed. In most cases, the citation should include a court date, along with a means of waiving the court appearance and paying the fine directly. Remember, signing a citation is only an acknowledgement that you have received the ticket.
  • After you have been released from the vehicle stop, signal your intention to enter into the roadway and do so with due regard, and only when it is safe to do so.

I hope that you never have to use any of these tips, but if you do, just remember that the number one objective in the officer’s mind is that everyone returns home safely to their families. Please drive carefully!

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