If your rear-view mirror fills with red and blue flashing lights, you know it’s time to pull over.
But many people don’t realize that how you conduct yourself when you’re stopped can dictate whether you’re slapped with a ticket.
Getting a ticket can mean more than a trip to the courthouse and a fine. Collecting a moving violation or two can drive up your car insurance rates.
“On average, the rate increase for the first moving violation is about 10 to 20 percent. A second violation would result in an even greater increase and loss of any good-driver discount of applicable in your state,” says Marlene Gerboth, a State Farm agent in California.
The goal is to obey all traffic laws so you don’t attract the attention of a cop. But in the unfortunate event that you do, these five rules of the traffic stop will help you stay safe and prevent you from irritating the officer.
Rule 1: Safely move to the shoulder.
If a cop in on your tail, it’s best to pull over as soon as possible. But that’s always possible, given traffic or road conditions.
“If you need to take an exit to pull over or can’t safely pull over immediately, put your hazards on to let the officer know you see him and are not attempting to flee,” says Matthew Porter, a spokesman for the San Antonio Police Department.
As you ease off the road, switch on your turn signal and go as far to the right as possible, says Liz Martinez, a former senior investigator for a law enforcement agency in New York.
Rule 2: Power down.
Once you’re at a complete stop, Martinez says, turn the ignition off and place your hands at the 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock positions on the steering wheel.
“A running vehicle can suggest that you may try to flee from the officer. Having your hands visible and in a fixed position will help ensure the officer you're not reaching for a weapon -- and that's safer for both of you,” she says.
Also, roll your window down before the officer approaches your car so the officer knows you are prepared to talk and aren't confrontational.
Rule 3: Be careful.
Most cops will ask to see your driver’s license and insurance card. “You could receive a citation for failure to display a driver’s license or failure to provide (proof of) liability insurance if you refuse to show either of these things,” Porter says.
Porter cautions against automatically reaching into a glove box, purse or any hidden pocket for these documents.
“Let the officer know that before your retrieve the items,” Porter says.
If you do this, the cop won’t think you’re trying to retrieve a gun, pepper spray or another weapon.
Rule 4: Be nice.
It doesn’t hurt to explain your reasons for speeding or blowing through the stop sign, Martinez says. Being polite may help.
“If you’re courteous and respectful to the officer, you’ll have a better chance of receiving a warning rather than a ticket,” she says.
However, no matter how good your excuse is, don’t expect to get let off.
Drivers who become insistent about their innocence and offer ridiculous excuses like “I didn't know you were a police officer” or beg for mercy on the grounds that they’ve already received a lot of tickets may end up in more trouble than if they’d stayed quiet. “An irritated officer can write a ticket for infractions over and above the original one that got the driver stopped in the first place,” Martinez says.
Drivers who plead their cases to the point of obnoxiousness risk getting arrested, says Shane Fisher, a traffic attorney in Florida.
If you think you’ve been stopped unfairly or believe you had a valid reason for breaking the law, save it for the judge. Fisher says you’ll have your day in court, and that’s where you can argue your case. Don’t run the risk of making things worse on the side of the road.
Rule 5: If asked, get out of the car.
Porter says you shouldn’t get out of the car unless the officer asks you to do so. Generally, if an officer wants you to exit your vehicle, he’ll explain the reason – for example, he suspects you’re driving drunk.
Don’t try to weasel out of getting out of the car. Porter says that if you don’t step out of your car, you could be charged with resisting arrest.
“You could also upset the officer and lead him to believe you're hiding something else in your car. That could provide the necessary legal cause for them to search your car,” Fisher says.