What to Do If You Get Pulled Over

a cop car in a side view mirror of a car

Tips to make a routine traffic stop go as smoothly as possible

When you get pulled over by a police car, those flashing blue lights may trigger an immediate sense of panic within you. This is perfectly natural. But keep this in mind: How you react after an incident often matters just as much as the incident itself.

In fact, an individual’s behavior largely dictates how smoothly the stop will go, says Officer Harold McClellan, a 25-year veteran police officer in New York State.

“Good choices lead to good outcomes,” says McClellan. “That doesn’t necessarily mean no ticket, but it can certainly influence how generous an officer is feeling.”

Here’s some tips on how to make sure a stop goes smoothly:

Prompt pullover

Avoid coasting for long distances, because this will raise suspicion. “It suggests you’re trying to buy some time to hide something,” McClellan says. “It definitely increases the chances of a simple stop being elevated to a search.” Instead, use your signal and slow down gradually, moving far enough onto the shoulder of the road to avoid danger to your vehicle and to the officer. Roll down your window and turn off your engine.

Keep your hands visible

Too many officers are assaulted or, worse yet, killed during these incidents. The best way to establish a sense of comfort/trust is to keep your hands in view at all times. Place them on the steering wheel as the police officer is approaching and keep them there. If it’s dark, turn on your overhead light. Reach for items or documents only when requested to do so and state what you are doing before taking an action. “Nothing makes an officer more nervous than not being able to see someone’s hands,” says McClellan.

Be respectful

As in any potential sticky situation, adopting a “honey” instead of “vinegar” approach can work wonders. Always allow the officer to begin any exchange. Answer questions politely and clearly. Don’t try to argue your way out of the ticket—save debate for the court appearance. Besides, experts often say that you can only harm your case by getting defensive or confrontational. “Arguing or lying to an officer is one sure way to turn what should be a short routine stop into a much lengthier and more challenging event,” says McClellan.