Sitting on the side of the road with a police officer’s car lights flashing behind you is a stressful, even sometimes scary, situation. Recent cases of arrest-related violence have made national headlines and sparked a discussion on individual rights when interacting with police. How does the law protect citizens from overzealous officers?
Most people don’t know what to do when they are pulled over. “Traffic stop etiquette” in citizen interaction with police officers isn’t even part of the many topics discussed in driver’s training courses. North Carolina House Bill 21 could soon change that, but in the meantime, both police officers and legal experts have chimed in on the topic.
Earlier this year in our state, one man’s understanding of his rights allowed him to stand up to police who said he couldn’t record them as they gathered around his vehicle at a traffic stop. While getting pulled over shouldn’t empower you to play roadside lawyer, there are a few simple yet effective tips to follow to protect your safety and your rights.
Pull over quickly and at a safe distance
A police officer in your rearview mirror can be a menacing site. If they follow you for short distance before turning on their lights, they may just be looking for a safe spot to stop. If a police officer pulls you over, take these steps:
- Pull over on the shoulder as far off the road as possible.
- Stay in your vehicle and keep your hands visible on the steering wheel.
- Do not reach for your driver’s license or registration until instructed to do so.
Answer questions clearly and comply with all orders
An officer will ask for your license and registration. Generally, this is the only information you are required to give to the officer at a traffic stop. He or she may ask questions as to your whereabouts or plans that night, but you may politely decline questions that do not relate to your personal information.
An officer may ask you to step out of your vehicle if he or she wants to search the car or make an arrest. You should comply with all orders, even if you think they are unfair. Evidence of a crime that is obtained illegally by police can be thrown out in court if you are arrested or charged.
If you have been charged with a crime such as drug possession or DUI as the result of a traffic stop, or you believe police treated you unfairly during an arrest, a local criminal defense attorney can help you assert your rights in the court of law.