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Safety & Accident

Safety Tip: Responding to a Traffic Stop

June 12, 2017

Photo by Coolcaesar at English language Wikipedia (via Wikimedia Commons).
Photo by Coolcaesar at English language Wikipedia (via Wikimedia Commons).

When a law enforcement officer pulls your vehicle over for a traffic stop, the experience can be stressful. It's important for your own safety, however, to maintain control of your emotions so the officer never feels threatened. Here’s advice from the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles:

  • Don’t ignore the officer’s signal or pretend you didn’t see it.
  • Turn on your right-turn signal and check your mirrors. Carefully and slowly move your vehicle completely to the right side of the road. If the officer drives by and doesn’t stop, return to the travel lane when it is safe.
  • Do not stop your vehicle in an intersection, in front of a driveway, or in a travel lane. If the officer directs you to pull over in a certain place, pull over where directed.
  • Put the vehicle in park (if an automatic transmission) or in neutral with the parking brake on (if a standard transmission). Turn off the engine.
  • Stay in the vehicle (both you and your passengers). Only get out if you are instructed to by the officer.
  • If it is dark, leave your headlights on and put the interior overhead light on.
  • Roll down your window as the officer walks toward you.
  • Wait until the officer asks for your license and registration before reaching into your pockets or into the glove compartment. While you know you are only reaching for the appropriate documents, your movements may be reasonably seen by the officer as an attempt to reach for a weapon or to hide something. The officer may feel threatened and may react in a manner that you do not expect. Hand the documents to the officer when requested and do not present the documents in a wallet or holder.
  • Keep your hands in plain sight and tell your passengers to do the same.
  • Do not make any sudden movements or gestures that could seem threatening. Examples of this could be reaching under the seats or into unlit areas of the vehicle. Make sure your passengers do not do this either.
  • Stay in your vehicle when the officer goes back to the police car. If you have a question, wait until the officer returns. If you find something the officer requested, hold it out the window and wait for the officer to return.
  • Be polite when the officer returns your license and registration. If the officer gives you a ticket, do not argue. Once a citation is issued, the officer is required to file it and cannot take it back. You have the right to challenge the citation in court.
  • When the officer tells you that you can go, put on your left-turn signal, check your mirrors, and return to the travel lane. If you are on a highway, accelerate to a safe speed in the breakdown lane before merging into traffic. 
  • If you believe that you were stopped by a police officer because of your race or your gender, you may report this by contacting the police department or law enforcement agency of the officer who stopped you.

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