No one wants to see those flashing lights in their rearview mirror. Being pulled over is stressful, especially if it’s the first time. But if you follow certain procedures, the event will be much smoother. Here are the top Do’s and Don’ts of what to do when pulled over by the police.

What to do when pulled over

First, if you see that you’re being pulled over (signaled by sirens or the bright glow of police lights in your rearview mirror), immediately signal your intention and work your way to the right side of the road. Take a breath—and make sure you stop in an area that is as far off the road as possible. It’s okay to pull to the right of an off-ramp, the shoulder of the street or even a business parking lot. But use common sense: don’t stop on a curved road or bridge, or any area with limited space or visibility. Never pull over on the left side of a street of the freeway.

Once your car is safely stopped, put it in park. Keep your seatbelt on, and make sure your hands are placed visibly on the steering wheel. If you have dark tinted windows, it’s probably a good idea to lower your window so the officer can easily see you. If it’s at night, illuminate your overhead lights. Sit tight until a police officer approaches your vehicle and initiates discussion.

What to expect

Here’s how it will typically play out: the officer should introduce him or herself. Then, they’ll ask for your driver license, registration, and proof of insurance. They’ll also explain why they pulled you over. They’ll look to make sure your form of ID is valid; any one of these should suffice: an Arizona license or license from any other U.S. state, a learner permit, a temporary license, or military ID.

Next, you’ll be informed of your citation or warning. If your violation is severe, such as criminal speeding or a DUI, the officer may take you into custody. You’ll receive a written record of your violation; you’ll notice it will have a specific code or statute on there, including a description of what the officer observed. When you sign your citation or warning, you’re not admitting to anything; you’re just acknowledging receipt. You may choose later to go to court, pay the ticket, or if eligible, attend Defensive Driving to dismiss your ticket.

What NOT to do

In general, remember, you want to let the officer take the lead and guide the process. Here are a few Don’ts:

  • If you have a firearm in the car, don’t reach for it without the officer’s explicit permission. The officer may wish to hold the weapon until they’re done engaging with you.
  • Don’t start searching through your vehicle, reaching around into various compartments and through items. Wait until you have verbal permission to do so.
  • Don’t get out of your car and approach the officer. Only do so if you are asked.

Being pulled over is stressful for you, but it may be even more so for the police officer. Police officers pull people over every day, without any knowledge of what they may face when they walk up to that driver window. That can be a scary thing. Cooperating, communicating and being respectful will help the pull-over go smoother and safer for both of you. That’s our view of what to do when pulled over – stay safe out there.