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What are your rights during a traffic stop?

Photograph of a man involved in a traffic stop.

Did you know that the police can pull you over for any reason? Despite what many drivers believe, a police officer doesn’t need a specific reason to pull you over, only a reasonable suspicion that you’re currently, or plan to, break the law. If you are pulled over by the police, remember that at that moment they are not your friend, and they’re not trying to help you. To make sure you exit that situation with the best possible outcome, it’s important to know your rights, what to do, and perhaps most importantly what NOT to do.

What can a police officer do during a traffic stop?

Police have broad leeway in what they are able to do during a traffic stop, and because courts typically side with an officer’s opinion, they tend to use those powers liberally. During a stop, an officer has every right to:

  • request your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance;
  • search your person for weapons;
  • ask you or any passengers to exit the vehicle for any – or no – reason;
  • search your vehicle if they have reasonable cause (they will always have reasonable cause), including locked containers or compartments;
  •  and/or administer a field sobriety or breathalyzer test.

What are my rights during a traffic stop?

It may seem like the police can do whatever they want during a traffic stop, and in many regards that’s true, but you are certainly not without rights, and properly exercising them can make the difference if things become more serious.

  • You have the right to remain silent.
  • You have the right to record the interaction, whether video, audio, or both.
  • You have the right to refuse your consent for any searches.
  • You have the right to leave (if you’re not being charged or detained).

What should I do during a traffic stop?

There’s a difference between knowing your rights and properly exercising them in a civil and polite manner. If you’re being belligerent or noticeably disrespectful, things could go poorly for you quickly. There are plenty of videos on the internet of this if you need convincing.

  • Remain calm, polite, and respectful.
  • Turn your car off and place your keys in a visible spot on the dashboard.
  • Prepare your identification, registration, and insurance information for the officer.
  • Keep your hands visible at all times, preferably on the steering wheel, and don’t make sudden movements.
  • If possible, record the interaction and inform the officer that you will be doing so
  • Don’t provide any more information than you have to. Simply say “I prefer not to answer that.”
  • If they ask “do you know why I pulled you over?” say no.
  • Don’t admit guilt of anything.

If you believe that your rights have been violated by a police officer during a traffic stop, contact us today for a free consultation or call our experts at Albers & Associates at (443) 543-8517 to learn how we can help. With offices in Baltimore, Columbia, Towson, Northern Virginia, Westminster, and Dundalk, we’re here to help you with any questions you may have.

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