How to Act when the Police Pull You Over (USA)

Two Methods:Reacting to Being Pulled OverReacting if You Are Arrested

You might be nervous about what's going to happen when you get pulled over, but remember that officers are the ones who have every right to be nervous. They never know what to expect. Generally, the more you do to help ensure the officer's safety, the more you ensure your own.

Method 1
Reacting to Being Pulled Over

  1. Image titled Act when the Police Pull You Over (USA) Step 1
    Know your rights. A police officer can pull you over for any traffic violation, no matter how minor. They can even follow you and wait for you to commit a traffic violation. Never fight with the police officer or act in a threatening or hostile manner. If you do, the officer could react by arresting you or retaliating in some other way.
    • A police officer cannot pull you over because of your age, race or the type of car you drive. If you believe that you've been pulled over for an illegal reason, record the interaction between yourself and the police officer, if possible. Simply place your cell phone on your dashboard and hit “record.”
  2. Image titled Act when the Police Pull You Over (USA) Step 2
    Look for a convenient spot to pull over. Slow down, put your turn signal on, and pull over to the right. This will signal to the officer that you intend to pull over. Try to find a close parking lot or wide shoulder of the road. Many officers will appreciate the consideration. Take the keys out of the ignition and place them on the dash.
    • If it's dark and you are alone, you have the right to drive to a well-lit area, such as a gas station, before stopping. If you plan to drive until you find a safe place, dial 911. Let them know that you are being pulled over by a police officer and that you are driving until you find a well-lit safe place to pull over. The 911 operator will communicate this information to the police officer.
  3. Image titled Act when the Police Pull You Over (USA) Step 3
    Relax. Even though getting pulled over by a police officer is scary, you will be okay even if you get a traffic ticket. Take a deep breath and remember that police officers are not evil or scary. They are there to help protect everyone.
  4. Image titled Act when the Police Pull You Over (USA) Step 4
    Roll down your driver's side window and any tinted windows. If it is dark, turn on interior lights. Make all your movements slowly. The officer is watching you carefully to make sure you're not drawing a weapon or hiding something. Do not reach for anything in the passenger compartment of your vehicle or under your seat. As the officer approaches, put your hands on the steering wheel where the officer can see them.
  5. Image titled Act when the Police Pull You Over (USA) Step 5
    Don't speak first. When the officer comes over to your car, he will usually ask for your license and registration. He is not obliged to tell you why he pulled you over before you comply. When you move your hands, tell the officer that you are getting your license and registration. Get them slowly and deliberately. If you're in a dark area, the officer will follow your hands with his flashlight. Finish this process before anything else, then put your hands back on the wheel. While the officer checks your license and vehicle status via radio, keep your hands on the steering wheel.[1]
    • Keep your license and registration in an envelope (preferably yellow or another bright color), not a pouch. The envelope should be fairly small. You do not want to keep your insurance and registration in an envelope that is large enough to hold a gun. If your license and registration are in your glove compartment or under your seat (not recommended), ask the officer if you can pull your yellow envelope out of the glove compartment.
    • If you don't have a license or registration, the officer can arrest you for driving without them or can give you a ticket. But, if you have a good excuse for not having a license or registration, the officer may allow you to show another form of picture ID. Then, he'll use it to look you up. This depends on the officer, so try to never drive without your registration and license.
  6. Image titled Act when the Police Pull You Over (USA) Step 6
    Keep your answers non-committal and brief. Be polite at all times, and refer to the officer as "officer." You may want to ask the officer what his or her name is. Open-ended questions can get you into trouble. The officer may be trying to extract admissions out of you that can be used against you in court. He or she will include any answers you make to him in his or her police report. Additionally, as personal cameras become more standard with police officers, your interaction will be recorded. Here are a few examples of how you should answer questions:
    • If you are asked, "Do you know why I stopped you?" say "No."
    • If you are asked, "Do you know how fast you were going?" say "Yes." Answering "No" to this question will lead the officer to believe that you are ignorant of the speed limit or how fast you are going. But, if you truly do not know, you can say “I think I was going around X speed.”
    • If the officer asks, "Do you have a good reason that would make you need to hurry?" say, "No." If you say "yes," then even if you were not speeding the officer will believe that you were, and you'll probably get a ticket.
    • If he asks "Have you been drinking?" and you have not been, say "no" in case you were stopped for driving in an erratic manner. But, tell him if you take medications or have an illness that can cause driving problems.
    • If the officer spots or even smells an open container of alcohol, you could be asked to take a breathalyzer and a field sobriety test. A police officer cannot force you to take a breathalyzer test without first obtaining a search warrant. But, refusing to take the test is grounds for immediate arrest and license suspension. If this happens, you can be forced to take the breathalyzer in jail if the police officers can get a warrant, which is easily obtainable if you committed a traffic violation.
  7. Image titled Act when the Police Pull You Over (USA) Step 7
    Follow any orders given by the officer. Refusing to follow an officer's orders will identify you as either resistant or rebellious. This gives the officer the belief that he may have to use force to make you obey their orders. Save yourself the trouble and follow all orders given to you.
    • If the officer sees any illegal objects in plain view, he can open the door, reach in, and take them.
    • In the USA, moving vehicles are subject by law enforcement to search with probable cause after a traffic stop. Probable cause may include observing occupants in suspicious activities, remarks and things that the officer can smell, see or hear like safety violations, open containers, potential weapons, etc.
    • If the officer asks if he can search your car, you can say no. If you refuse to consent to a search, that does not create probable cause. However, courts have a tendency to defer to police on probable cause. Even if the officer's probable cause basis for the search is incorrect, it will still be considered a legal search.
    • Do not engage the officer in any unnecessary conversation. The officer knows why he pulled you over, and anything you say may be used against you. You have the right to remain silent and not incriminate yourself. Don't talk unless responding to a question from the officer. Also do not name drop if you know an officer he works with. Chances are that the officer who stopped you assumes you know the other officer because of a prior violation or arrest.
    • Do not exit the vehicle unless requested to do so. This is almost always perceived as a threat and it is safer for you inside the car than outside, near traffic. Continue to wear your safety belt. Even though you are stopped, if you are on a busy street or freeway someone can still hit you. Additionally, if you are wearing your seat belt the officer will have no reason to think that you are going to try to run away. If you remove your seat belt before the officer sees that you were wearing it, you might receive a ticket for not wearing it even though you were wearing it, because the officer didn't see you wearing it.
  8. Image titled Act when the Police Pull You Over (USA) Step 8
    Know when an officer can legally search your car. In the USA, moving vehicles are subject by law enforcement to search with probable cause after a traffic stop. If the officer sees any illegal objects in plain view, he or she can search the part of the vehicle that the objects are in, and arrest you if necessary. If an officer asks you for permission to search your vehicle, you do not have to say yes. If you say no to a search, keep in mind that the officer may try to establish probable cause for the search.[2]
    • Probable cause to search your car may include observing occupants in suspicious activities, remarks and things that the officer can smell, see or hear like safety violations, open containers, and items that could potentially appear to be weapons. Note that refusing to give permission for a car search cannot be considered probable cause. Unless the officer can come up with something else, you will be free to go after the officer writes you a ticket or gives you a warning.
    • Be aware that the officer does not have to ask you permission to have a K-9 unit sniff the outside of your car (drugs, people, explosives. etc).
  9. Image titled Act when the Police Pull You Over (USA) Step 9
    Be polite, and do not argue if you are given a ticket. There's plenty of time later in traffic court if you choose to contest it. Instead, thank the officer and remain in control of your emotions. If you believe that you were pulled over for an illegal reason, or that the police officer did something that was illegal, do not address it with the officer while you are stopped. Instead, try to get or remember the officer’s name for later.
    • If the stop is taking a long time, you are free to ask the officer if you are free to leave.
    • If you believe that the officer did something illegal, you can contact an attorney. Then, see if you have a case or file a complaint with the county or state where the police officer is based. For example, if you believe the officer profiled you based on your race, consult an attorney and consider filing a complaint.

Method 2
Reacting if You Are Arrested

  1. Image titled Act when the Police Pull You Over (USA) Step 10
    Know when you can be arrested. The police can arrest someone during a traffic stop when: the police officer personally saw the person commit a crime or the police officer has probable cause to arrest. When a police officer has a “reasonable belief, based on facts and circumstances, that a person has committed or is about to commit a crime, the officer may arrest that person.”[3]
    • For example, if you're driving a car erratically and breaking traffic laws, the police officer may administer a breathalyzer test. If he determines that you have been drinking, the officer may arrest you. Or if the officer sees drugs in your car when he pulls you over, he will have probable cause to arrest you.
    • Confirm that you are being arrested. Ask them if you are free to go. If they say no, then ask them what you are being arrested for. After this, you want to stop talking.
  2. Image titled Act when the Police Pull You Over (USA) Step 11
    Know what the police are permitted to do during and after an arrest. If you are arrested, the police can do the following things simply because they have arrested you:
    • Search your body and clothing.
    • Search your belongings.
    • Search your vehicle if you were in it at the time they stopped you.
    • Ask you to perform a test, such as a field sobriety test.
    • Ask you questions. Note that you do not have to answer and you have the right to remain silent.
    • If this happens to you, stay calm and cooperate with the police officer the best you can.
  3. Image titled Act when the Police Pull You Over (USA) Step 12
    Understand your rights. Police are required to read you what are known as your “Miranda rights” before they question you after an arrest. This informs you of your right to remain silent when you are being questioned, if not anything you say “can and will be used against you.” The police cannot threaten you or force you in any other way to talk to them or give them any sort of statement. If this happens to you, tell your attorney immediately.
    • If the police start to ask you a lot of questions and you believe that you will be arrested (you will probably have a pretty good idea), it is best to stop talking. If you are going to be arrested - zip it. Anything you say before you have been arrested can be used against you.
    • If police interrogate you without giving you the Miranda warning, the statements you make cannot be used as evidence against you at trial. Be aware that the police will ask you over and over again if you would like to talk to them even after you have been Mirandized. The police are allowed to trick you into talking. They are not required to be honest with you even after you have been Mirandized.


  • If you feel like your rights have been violated or that you've been the victim of an illegal search, contact your attorney later and discuss whether you have a claim.
  • If an officer searches your car even though you did not give permission and (at least as far as you know), the officer does not have probable cause, do not fight or resist the search.
  • Remain respectful toward the officer at all times, even when you refuse to consent to a search. Say something along the lines of "I'm sorry, officer, but I don't consent to any searches". You may be firm in asserting your rights, but being respectful about it goes a long way toward maintaining a calm, controlled attitude. It also helps "disarm" a dangerous situation if the officer's initial attitude is hostile.[4]


  • Don't use profanity or obscene language. Also, never say to the officer that you know your rights. Instead, show to him that you know your rights by calmly asserting them under pressure.
  • Don't try to lose the cop. Sure, it may seem like a fun idea to get on TV for a few hours while news and police helicopters chase you, but be assured that there is nothing worse in this situation. They will catch you and have very little sympathy for you after you endanger them and the public.
  • Do not carry open alcohol containers while in a vehicle, as you may be cited for that in addition to being charged with DWI/DUI. If you are a passenger, you may be cited for the open container. If you have just been to the liquor store, place your purchases in the trunk in case you are in an accident. If the bottles break inside the car, the officer may suspect you were drinking.
  • Do not carry illegal or dangerous items in your vehicle, or on your person. Doing so may result in the officer seizing your vehicle and placing you under arrest.

Article Info

Categories: Dealing with Police Officers | Fines and Road Offenses