Every driver knows getting pulled over by a police officer is possible, but few people are prepared for it when the blue and red lights start flashing in the rear-view mirror. It’s easy to feel like all of the power is in hands of the police officer, but as a driver and U.S. citizen you still have constitutional rights upheld by the Supreme Court.
Staying calm, respecting the law enforcement officer’s authority and knowing your rights are the keys to handling a traffic stop. The first two factors happen in the heat of the moment, but you can prepare in advance by becoming familiar with how your rights protect you during a traffic stop.
You Have the Right to Pull Over in a Safe Area
If you’re stopped while driving you don’t have to pull over immediately if it doesn’t seem safe. You have the right to continue driving (at the speed limit) to a secure, well-lit area where you’ll be in plain view.
You Have the Right to Ask Why You Were Pulled Over
Usually, it’s the cop who asks if you know why you were pulled over. But if you were seemingly doing nothing wrong, it’s your right to ask why the officer stopped you. Officers must have probable cause (speeding, busted taillight, etc.) before making a vehicle pull over.
You Have the Right to Stay in Your Car
When the police officer asks if you can step out of your car, it’s your right to stay seated. Typically, police officers ask a person to exit a vehicle if they’re concerned about concealed weapons or sobriety. It’s often best to comply, but you don’t have to.
You Have the Right to Know Your Miranda Rights
Unless you carry around a pocket-size version, you’re probably not familiar with everything that’s included in the Miranda Rights. The good news is, if a cop plans on making an arrest they must read you your Miranda Rights first.
You Have the Right to Remain Silent
One of the most notable parts of the Miranda Rights is the section about your right to remain silent. If law enforcement asks you a question, it’s your right to refuse to answer (except in a few states where you must answer basic questions about your identity). The police officer may not be as accommodating and you may get a free ride to the police station, but sometimes it’s in your best interest to remain silent so you don’t accidentally incriminate yourself.
You Have the Right to Refuse a Search
After being stopped, if the cop asks, “can I take a look inside the car” it’s your right to refuse. The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure by the police. Officers can’t search your person or vehicle without your consent or a warrant unless:
- There are illegal materials in plain view.
- There’s reasonable suspicion a crime has occurred.
- The officer has probable cause to arrest the driver.
- The officer believes evidence is about to be destroyed.
Officers also need probable cause to obtain a search warrant from the court.
You Have the Right to Refuse a Field Sobriety Test / Breathalyzer Test
Even in states where “implied consent” applies, you have the right to refuse a breathalyzer test or field sobriety test. Keep in mind, that your driver license could be suspended for six months for refusing. Also, if the police officer has probable cause to suspect drug use they can take you to the police station for a blood test.
You Have the Right to Ask Whether You Can Go
In cases where no arrest has occurred, the police office can’t detain you indefinitely. You can ask the police officer if you’re free to go at any time. If the answer is “yes”, then you can walk away from the situation.
It’s also good to know your options after getting a ticket for speeding or another traffic violation. For instance, you can take our online defensive driving course to keep points off your driver license. It’s fast, convenient and makes that one-time traffic stop a thing of the past.