July 10, 2015


A traffic stop is one of the most dangerous activities that law enforcement officers perform daily. More police officers are killed or injured during these encounters than just about any other law enforcement activity. For police officers, there are two types of traffic stops; (1) high risk and (2) unknown risk. Most traffic stops fall into the “unknown risk” category, although one can quickly become the other. Officers also know that on occasion, the stop can be stressful for the motorist as well, but that anxiety should decrease as the encounter progresses. Here are a few of the legal requirements and suggestions on how to make these encounters less stressful and safer for all concerned when the blue lights are turned on for you.

First, the things you are legally required to do during a traffic stop include:

• Upon request by the officer, you are required to produce for inspection your driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance;
• If the officer asks for your driver’s license or identification card and you are a Concealed Weapons Permit holder, carrying a concealed weapon pursuant to the permit, you must present your carry permit. Verbally notify the officer where the weapon is located and listen carefully for further instructions.

Secondly, here are some suggestions for a better, safer, quicker encounter:

• Pull your vehicle over to the first safe location completely off the roadway, usually to the right, out of the lane of travel;
• Put the gear shift into “park.”
• Place your hands on the steering wheel or where they are clearly visible by the officer at all times. If at night, cut on the dome or interior light as well;
• Stay inside your vehicle unless the officer directs you to safely step out;
• Turn your radio off and conclude any telephone conversation or texting so that you can concentrate on communicating with the officer;
• If your vehicle registration and proof of insurance is located in the glove box or other compartment along with firearm, notify the officer BEFORE reaching for those documents;
• The officer stopped you for a reason, likely for a moving violation which he/she personally witnessed. Arguing your case at that time will probably be unproductive. It is further unlikely that you can talk your way out of a ticket, but you can sure talk your way into one. Court is the appropriate place to plead your case.
• Feel free to video the encounter; we probably are as well;
• Be respectful of the officer, and the officer will be respectful of you. If you believe you have been mistreated or your rights violated, contact the agency at the appropriate time and file a complaint; nothing will be settled on the side of the road.
• Don’t attempt to flee on foot or in the vehicle. Whatever problem or issue you have with law enforcement will not improve by running. We’ll deal with your issue as professionally as possible, but fleeing only increases the danger to you and the officer.

Finally, while not legally mandated, if you are travelling alone at night in a rural or poorly lighted area when the officer attempts to initiate a traffic stop and you feel stopping immediately at that location is unsafe, consider doing the following:

• Turn on your emergency flashers to acknowledge the officer;
• Slow down to a reasonable speed under the speed limit while you drive to a safer and well lighted area;
• Turn on the dome light so the officer can see you;
• Call 911 to advise that a police officer is attempting to pull you over and you are looking for a safe place to stop. Dispatch can contact the officer and let him/her know why you are not immediately stopping.

Observing these legal requirements and common sense suggestions will go a long way toward making a traffic stop safer for everyone.


Major Michael M. Nunn
General Counsel/P.I.O.