The first thing you should typically do when an officer signals a traffic stop is to acknowledge the command promptly. Signal that you are going to pull over and do so as soon as you can safely manage it. A police officer will typically ask for identification and other information, so you should have this ready. Answer any questions honestly and be respectful, and ask any questions you may have based on what the police officer tells you. There may be other procedures unique to your location, so it's a good idea to learn about your local laws.
Your Initial Response
When you see the lights or hear a siren, slow down and activate your turn signal as soon as possible, even if you cannot pull off the road right away. This lets the officer know that you intend to cooperate and stop. As soon as it becomes safe to do so, pull off the road as far as possible or pull into the nearest driveway or parking lot. This demonstrates a concern for the officer's safety. You should turn off your vehicle, but you can leave the keys in the ignition.
Once You Have Stopped
After you have stopped your vehicle, remain inside and wait for the officer to approach you. Any sudden movement of the door or people in the car can make an officer uneasy, so tell passengers to also remain seated. Once the officer has reached the driver's window, be prepared to present all requested documents; this usually includes a driver's license, proof of insurance card, and the car's registration. If you must reach into a glove compartment or console panel to get these documents, tell the officer what you are doing. Otherwise, place your hands on the steering wheel.
During a traffic stop, a police officer may ask you some questions. One common question is "Do you know why I pulled you over?" Some legal professionals suggest a driver should not answer this question in too much detail. Your answer could be interpreted as an acknowledgement of guilt in a later court proceeding, so do not volunteer incriminating information during the traffic stop.
It is important to remain honest, however, when answering the police officer's questions. You should answer simple questions like "Where are you headed?" or "Is this your current address?" truthfully. Keep your answers simple and to the point. You can choose to contest a ticket later without raising issues about unfairness during a traffic stop.
Processing Your Information
Once a police officer has collected all the pertinent information from you, he or she is likely to return to the police car, and there may be a substantial delay until he or she returns. The officer has a protocol to follow during a traffic stop, which includes a search for outstanding warrants and verification of your identity. These procedures can be time-consuming.
If the police officer decides to issue a warning, be sure to thank him or her and promise to be more careful in the future. On the other hand, if the officer issues you a citation, then listen carefully to what he or she says and ask questions if needed. In most cases, the citation should include a court date, along with a means of waiving the court appearance and paying the fine directly. Be sure to sign the ticket when asked to do so, as this is only an acknowledgement that you have received it and refusal to sign can result in additional citations or even arrest.
Keep in mind that, in many places, a police officer can always add charges to a ticket, so remain calm while receiving the citation. If you become overly emotional or insult or threaten the officer in any way, you may be charged or arrested. Many police vehicles include cameras that record traffic stops, so bad behavior could be documented on video for use against you in court.
Know Your Rights and Responsibilities
An officer typically does not have the right to search your vehicle unless you consent to it or there is something visible that creates "probable cause" for a search. Refusing a search, however, is a punishable act in some jurisdictions, so be careful about anything that might be considered obstruction of police duties. You are usually within your rights to ask to see the officer's badge and bond or business card. This is especially important if you feel the stop is unwarranted or you are suspicious about the officer's legitimacy.
Differences by Region
Many of these procedures are effective throughout the US, but the police may require other information or ask different questions elsewhere. In most cases, it is best to remain calm and polite, and follow the officer's instructions. To learn more about the traffic laws in your area, including what police are allowed and not allowed to do during a traffic stop, contact your local law enforcement agency, traffic police, department of motor vehicles, or licensing agency.