What to Say during a Traffic Stop

Traffic Stop: “Do You Know Why I Stopped You?”

It Happens to Everyone. Sooner or later, everyone gets stopped for a traffic violation. Sooner or later, anyone who drinks and drives gets stopped for DUII.

First, it is always best to avoid drinking and driving.

Second, following traffic signals and posted speed limits is the best way to avoid a ticket.

Often times, a police officer determines what will happen in a given stop in the first minute of contact. The officer is trained to immediately ask you questions, so that you will make incriminating statements. Questions police officers routinely ask include, “do you know why I stopped you?” “Do you know how fast you were going?” “Did you see that stop sign?” “What’s your hurry?” “What’s that I smell?”

Knowing ahead of time what tactics an officer is likely to use can help you respond to a traffic stop effectively. It’s a good idea to immediately take control of the situation, in a subtle and nice way.

Immediately upon interacting with the offer, make a positive and respectful statement, like “Good evening, officer,” or “Hello, Officer.” All police or sheriffs should be addressed as “Officer” because it shows respect for their authority, regardless of what jurisdiction they serve. After making a positive and respectful statement, you should be the first one to ask a neutral question: “How are you doing today?” “Nice night, isn’t it?” “How is your day so far?”

The officer may push forward with the kinds of open-ended questions mentioned above, trying to get you to admit to wrongdoing. However, because you have already shown that you are respectful of the authority behind the badge, and because you have signaled that you are calm and in control, you are already much better off than the average motorist.

Stay Calm. If you are stopped for a traffic infraction, it is important for you to quell your anger and frustration, and be as cooperative as possible. Stop as soon as you are signaled, but stop someplace where it is convenient for the officer—under an overpass if it is raining, for instance. Be courteous to the officer, even if you don’t believe he is in the right for stopping you. Do not admit anything. The officer will routinely ask, “do you know why I’m stopping you?” If you say, “I was speeding,” the officer will repeat that back to you in court someday, and you will feel foolish! Instead say, “I’m not sure officer, please tell me?”

Don’t Forage. Wait until the officer contacts you before you start digging in your glove box for license, registration and proof of insurance. Traffic stops are the #1 situation for officer deaths, and you will raise the officer’s blood pressure if he thinks you might be looking for a gun.

Don’t BS the Cop. There are many urban myths about how to talk your way out of a ticket. The truth is, you’re as likely to talk yourself into a ticket. The best course of action is to stay calm and courteous. You might even try asking the officer, politely, if he would be willing to give you a warning this once. But arguing, cajoling, or (worst of worsts) bribing a police officer will not work, and will not result in a lesser fine.

Don’t Consent. If the police officer thinks he smells drugs, or sees a suspicious package, he will ask to search your car. Often the officer will ask to do a search for no reason at all, just to see what you will say and what he will find. You do not have to consent to a search of your person, your luggage or purse, your trunk or your vehicle. Simply say, “I’ve got a lot of things I need to do today, Officer, so I’m going to say no.” If the officer persists, say, “I don’t want to be rude, Officer, but I must be clear: I am not consenting to a search of my person, luggage, purse, trunk or vehicle today.”

Just like the officer may ask you if he can search you, just to see what you’ll say, there’s no harm in asking the office, in a pleasant way of course, “would you be willing to let me off with a warning?”

All in all, treating the officer with friendliness and respect is your best bet, because it allows the officer to exercise his discretion to let you go.


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