Rachel Bodine graduated from college with a BA in English. She has since worked as a Feature Writer in the insurance industry and gained a deep knowledge of state and countrywide insurance laws and rates. Her research and writing focus on helping readers understand their insurance coverage and how to find savings. Her expert advice on insurance has been featured on sites like PhotoEnforced, All...

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Written by Rachel Bodine
Insurance Feature Writer Rachel Bodine

Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jun 6, 2022

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Key Takeaways

  • Getting pulled over by the police is scary, but there are a few rules you can follow to maximize your safety
  • Always remain calm and treat the officer with respect, despite their treatment of you
  • Remember to exercise your rights and record the encounter to keep yourself safe

You’re driving down the road when suddenly you notice it — an ominous red and blue flashing in your rearview mirror. Your stomach begins to knot, and your chest begins to tighten. You realize- The police pulled me over. What do you do next?

Getting stopped by the police is a nerve-wracking and dangerous experience. However, there are several things you can do to help keep yourself safe if a law enforcement officer pulls you over. 

This article will focus on your rights as a U.S. citizen. We’ll explore the essential rules you should follow while interacting with cops, and we’ll explain how to safely navigate the experience so you can return home to your loved ones. 

What to Do When Getting Pulled Over by a Cop

Given the state of policing in this country, it’s no surprise that many people feel crippling terror at the thought of being pulled over. For some people, even the sight of a patrol car might send chills down their spines.

And, since there is little accountability for police in the U.S., the burden and responsibility of maintaining a calm environment fall on you as a civilian. 

If a cop pulls you over, you must maintain a calm and respectful demeanor and follow a few guidelines. 

Prepare Your Documents

When you see those flashing lights, your initial reaction might be fear or panic. That’s understandable. But it’s essential to regain your composure as quickly as possible. 

When the cop signals you to pull over, do so immediately. Once you have safely stopped your vehicle, gather your driver’s license, proof of insurance, and vehicle registration. 

You need to have these items ready when the officer approaches. A good practice is to retrieve your documents as soon as you stop and place them on your lap or the dashboard before the cop gets to your window.

Remain Calm

When the cop gets to your car, roll your window down halfway. Try to control yourself as much as possible. The cop will sense your agitation and may attempt to provoke you further if you appear distressed. 

If the officer asks for your license and registration, always tell them what you are doing before reaching for the documents. Do not make any movements without first notifying the cop of your intentions. Even if your documents are in plain sight, tell the officer you are reaching for them before you do so. 

The cop may insult you or ask offensive questions. Do not respond in kind. Always do your best to control the tone of your voice and speak respectfully. 

Even if the officer appears to harass you intentionally, do not show anger. Any sign of violence or hostility on your part could result in severe or fatal consequences. 

If possible, always record your interactions with the police. This is something you are legally allowed to do, despite what a cop might tell you, and having video evidence can make a huge difference in cases of he-said-she-said. 

Know Your Rights and Police Pull Over Procedures

As a U.S. citizen, you have rights. And these rights cannot be taken away by the police. If you are pulled over, you must remember to exercise your rights. 

You have the right to remain silent. You do not have to answer any questions the police ask you. You do not have to tell them where you are going or what you are doing.

Do not incriminate yourself or provide any unnecessary information. If the cop asks if you know why they pulled you over, always respond with “no, officer.” 

You have the right to ask if you are free to go. The police can briefly detain you without making an arrest. However, prolonged periods of detention without an arrest are unlawful. 

For example, a cop may temporarily detain you during a traffic stop. But they cannot bring you to the station and force you to remain there without arresting you. 

You have the right to record the encounter. In instances of excessive force and police brutality, civilian video recordings are often the only proof of police wrongdoing. 

While video evidence is rarely enough to cause cops to face the consequences for wrongdoing, it is usually highly beneficial for proving your own innocence. 

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Can the police pull me over to search my car?

The police might ask to search your vehicle. They can do so without permission if they have a warrant or probable cause. If, for instance, the police smell or claim to smell marijuana, they can search your vehicle without a warrant.

Never consent to a vehicle search without a warrant. If the cop asks for your permission, always deny them access to your vehicle. Even if you are confident that there is nothing illegal in your car, you do not have to give the police access, and it is generally much safer to prohibit the cop from entering your vehicle. 

How long can the police follow you?

The police can essentially follow you as long as they want. Although it is unlikely that a cop will follow you for a prolonged period of time, it can and does occasionally happen. In these situations, safety first, and do your best to remain calm and continue following the traffic laws. 

Police follow people for various reasons. Sometimes it’s because they saw a slight wiggle in your car’s movement. Other times, they may suspect you of criminal activity based on your vehicle’s appearance. 

Whatever the reason, the burden is again on you to remain calm and keep yourself safe. Many people might become understandably flustered or anxious when a cop continues to follow them. However, you must do your best to maintain a safe speed and control your vehicle. Doing so will reduce your chances of being pulled over.

What To Do When You Get Pulled Over: the Bottom Line

Getting pulled over by the police is a terrifying and often dangerous experience. It’s vital that you remember to follow a couple of rules on what to do if you get pulled over to maximize your safety.

One, you must always remain calm. The police can and will act aggressively. They can lie to you, and they can insult you. You must exercise self-control and treat them with respect despite these things. Failure to do so could have dire consequences.

Do not exit your vehicle unless the officer tells you to do so. When you reach for your documents, always say to the cop what you’re doing. 

Two, follow the officer’s instructions but remember your rights. You have the right to remain silent, and you do not have to answer the cop’s questions. You have the right to ask if you are free to leave. 

The cop can briefly detain you but must arrest you if they intend to keep you for a prolonged period of time.

Overall, the most crucial thing to do when dealing with the police is to remain calm and act respectfully. Yes, the police may treat you poorly. They may insult you and harass you. However, you can always return home to your family after an insult.

These guidelines can mean the difference between a ticket and a bullet. If you get pulled over, remember to follow the rules explained here so you can return safely to your loved ones.