What If...I Get Pulled Over?
By: Derek Woods | Chief Deputy, Cocke County Sheriff’s Office
As parents, we realize when teen drivers are behind the wheel and traveling down the roadway, there isn't much concern regarding their surroundings. The teen is possibly on the way to a friend's house, ballgame, or to school. It is certain that teen drivers, most of the time (really all the time), are not out riding around seeing the leaves change or to view a change of scenery on construction site, as old folks (called parents) do, it is the fine details we are looking for. That is not the case for teenagers, they look at the bright, shiny, and glamorous things around them. In any event, when it comes to a teen driver all we want is for you to get from point A to point B without an incident. Praying you arrive safely each and every time you get behind the wheel!!!
In reality, about 40% of all interactions between police and the public are traffic stops. The process to properly handle getting pulled over begins as soon as you see the flashing lights in your rearview mirror. When this happens be prepared to calmly get through the situation at hand. You need to safely (but as quickly as possible) get over to the side of the road, look for a convenient spot to pull over. 1) Slow down, put your turn signal on and pull over to the right. These details are simple but most important for your safety and the Officers' safety. Even though getting pulled over by a Police Officer is scary, you will be okay—even if you get a traffic ticket. 2) If it’s nighttime, find a well-lit area to pull over where you can see the officer and they can see you. Turn your blinker lights on and drive to a light/populated area when possible. 3) Use your turn signals to indicate your intentions to pullover to bring your car to a complete stop. Remember: The better you handle yourself with these actions, the better your encounter with the Police Officer will be.
Slowly bring your car to a complete stop, put your car into park, roll down your window to talk with the Officer. As soon as you come to stop and park, you should place your hands-on top of your steering wheel where the officer can see them. This may be a simple traffic stop for the teen driver, but for the Officer, it may be extremely stressful in what possibly could happen.
Officers are trained to remain alert and prepared at all times. It is pertinent that you do your part to staying calm and keeping the situational anxiety down.
The main thing for you is to remain as calm as you possibly can and keep your head looking forward until the Officer starts the conversation. As soon as they start talking to you, make eye contact, listen, and answer when spoken to at the appropriate time. There are a few basic questions you should prepare for when being pulled over. The Officer will ask for your driver’s license, car registration, and proof of your insurance. Keep in mind these are standard questions that Officers will ask for during a traffic stop/violation. After they stop talking, tell them where those items are and how you’re going to retrieve them. Then retrieve items in a calm manner. A quick reminder (speaking as a parent) keeps your driver’s license, car registration, and proof of your insurance ready. I recommend storing your car registration and proof of your insurance documents above your sun visor or glove box.
Please do exactly what the Officer asks you to do and be sure to do it to the best of your ability. More importantly, follow all of their instructions calmly with as much respect as possible. Even if the Officer teetering on the impolite side with how they’re talking to you, don’t give them the same treatment. Answer everything with “Ma’am” or “Sir” at the end of each answer and try to keep the situation as calm as you can. It’s understandable if you’re nervous, everyone gets nervous while being pulled over, even the Officer maybe a little nervous. So just do your best to be a respectful citizen and everything will work out well. As long as you’re respectful, the worst thing that can happen is you receive a ticket for what they pulled you over for. If you’re not respectful, calm, and/or belligerent then the worst-case scenario can become much more difficult and possibly make things worse.
If the officer does not mention why you were pulled over, calmly ask, "may I ask why I am being pulled over, officer?" You should remain calm, be polite, keep your hands visible preferably on the steering wheel.
If for some reason you don’t feel safe, call 911. Maybe the patrol car is unmarked, or the person doesn’t have the appropriate uniform or badge to identify as a police officer. Whatever the reason, you should call 911 and explain the situation if you feel you are in danger. The dispatcher can let you know if an actual officer is conducting the stop. If not, stay on the line and in your car until an additional police officer arrives.
PLEASE NOTE: A citation is not an omission of guilt; you should not argue or disagree these are matters that can be discussed in court where a Judge (a neutral party) can hear both sides. Respect goes both ways, if one party is not being respectful keep in mind you will have your day in court to give your side. In doing so, you can move past the traffic stop and travel safely to your destination. Be mindful that everyone has good and bad days, we all have life challenges that can impact our daily interactions whether officer or driver.
In closing, parents should teach their children how to handle situations responsibly in the right way. Who knows, in the end, if you are handling things right, they will most likely come out in your favor!