Here's what drivers, police are allowed to do during traffic stops

CINCINNATI – With the shooting death of a man by a University of Cincinnati police officer earlier this week and the viral spread of a Texas dash-cam video with a woman who later died in jail, a lot of attention is being put on how drivers – and police – should be acting during traffic stops.

I'm being pulled over right now and I'm furiously Googling "what do when pulled over." What should I do when I get pulled over?

The experts recommend remaining calm and being polite. Listen to the officer's instructions and avoid any hostile language.

Traffic stops are dangerous for police, according to Andrew Scott, a retired police chief who consults for law enforcement agencies. They don't know who they're pulling over or what you have in the car. They also run the risk of being hit by another vehicle.

Scott said it's best that everyone in the car avoid reaching under seats, into the glove compartment or anyplace else the officer can't see.

Flex Your Rights, a nonprofit organization that publishes articles on civil liberties and constitutional rights, recommends that drivers keep their hands on the wheel. If it's dark out, turn on an interior light so the officer can see that no one has any weapons.

Many police also consider the term "cop" disrespectful. You'll be better off addressing them as "officer."

Do I have to do what police say?

That depends. When an officer pulled over Sandra Bland in Texas, he told her to put out a cigarette she was smoking. He also told her to put her phone away. These were not lawful orders, according to Scott.

On the other hand, if the officer tells you to get out of the car, you have to get out of the car, he said. It's best to never physically resist an officer.

Can I record police?

Yes, you can, as long as it doesn't interfere with an investigation, according to Scott.

Can the police search my car?

Again, that depends. If you consent to a search, police can look wherever they want.

Otherwise, police need “probable cause” to search a vehicle, according to Flex Your Rights. That means an officer who sees, smells or hears something that may be criminal can perform a search.

Minor traffic violations – like a missing front license plate – don’t count as probable cause, but an officer could pull over a driver for one of those violations and observe something suspicious during the stop.

So, can police reach into my car?

If they have probable cause, sure. But law enforcement experts say it's a bad idea and leaves the officer vulnerable if the driver is still in there.

The officer who pulled over Bland did it. It's not yet clear if the officer in the Mount Auburn shooting this week reached in, but a police report states he was dragged by the car.

Can police search me?

If police have probable cause, they can frisk a person to search for a weapon. Otherwise, a person can refuse to be searched, according to Flex Your Rights.

If you're going to refuse a search, try to be polite about it.

Can I leave?

Only if an officer says so. Flex Your Rights suggests asking, "Am I free to go, or am I being detained?" If you're being detained, they recommend asking for a lawyer and shutting up.

Print this article Back to Top