We’ve all been there—pulled over on the side of the road, squirming in your sit, racking your brain trying to figure out how you’re going to get out of this traffic ticket. Do you apologize? Do you cry? Do you mention your uncle is a local police officer?
We wanted to find out what exactly people do when they are face-to-face with an officer ready to give them a traffic ticket.
Acknowledge the officer by turning on your hazard lights. Let the officer know you’ve seen them and you plan to pull over. This is especially important if you know you’ll need to try a distance before you are able to pull over safely.
Pull over to a safe area. Usually, you want to pull over to the right side of the road. Consider your safety and the safety of the officer will be walking up to your car by choosing an area with a wide shoulder, especially on a highway. Parking lots and well-lit streets are other safe places to pull over to.
Stay in the car, turn off engine, roll down window and turn on your dome lights. As soon as you safely pull over and stop, turn off your engine and roll down your window. If it’s dark out, turn on your dome light so the officer can see what’s going on inside the vehicle as they approach.
Stay still and keep your hands on the steering wheel. You don’t want to give him or her any reason to believe you’re a threat.
If you plan on fighting your ticket, keep answers short and don’t directly admit wrongdoing. Everything you say to an officer is admissible in court. Officers will typically ask questions to get some sort of admission out of you when they first walk up to your window. For example, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” Don’t say, “I was speeding, sir.” Calmly say, “No” or, “I don’t know.”
Wait for the officer to ask for your documents. Don’t try to rush the process by getting your license and registration ready while the officer is walking to your car. For all the know you could be reaching for a gun or trying to hide some sort of incriminating evidence. Wait until they gets to the window and asks for your documents.
You don’t have to consent to a search. In order to search your vehicle without your consent, an officer needs probable cause. If they don’t have probable cause but wants to search your car anyway, they will need your consent and may ask you something like, “You don’t mind me taking a look in your car, do you?” Even if you haven’t done anything illegal, it’s usually a good idea to exercise your Fourth Amendment right in this situation and decline the search. Politely decline the search by saying, “I don’t consent to a search, officer,” loud enough so it gets on the police recorder.
Sign the citation. If the officer decides to issue a citation, they’ll ask you to sign it. Sign it. It’s not an admission of guilt, it’s just recognition you’ve received the citation and you promise to either 1) pay the fine or 2) show up to court on the designated date.
Be safe when merging back into traffic. Take your time to store your belongings before you re-enter traffic. If you’re upset, collect yourself before driving away. When you’re ready, turn on your signal and merge back into traffic.
We surveyed 500 drivers in the United States about their experience with traffic tickets via the survey platform Pollfish. The survey was conducted on October 31, 2017.
Brionna is on a roller coaster that only goes up. You can follow her on twitter @BrionnaLewis.