That “Oh Sh–” moment

Sometimes you see it coming… Sometimes you don’t. Either way, no one enjoys the sight of blue lights dancing in their rear view mirror. 9 times out of 10 the stop is for a reason. Many citizens unknowingly violate the “rules” of the traffic stop. “Rules? What Rules?” you ask. Today you will read the lost chapter from the driver’s manual.

 Every year law enforcement officers execute millions of traffic stops nationwide. These stops are a result of observed traffic violations by the officer or as the result of an APB. Many adamantly believe that they’re being stopped so the officer can meet their quota for the month. Others believe it’s just the police “fucking with me.” Nevertheless, the majority of traffic stops are executed in the interest of public safety. How many times a week do you wish the police were there to stop someone driving crazy during rush hour? Although, that driver wasn’t stopped, many crazy drivers are put in check via the Traffic Stop. Traffic stops have also led to the capture of some of America’s most notorious criminals. Ted Bundy, Randy Craft, and Timothy McVeigh were all captured via the Traffic Stop.

From an officers standpoint, the traffic stop is one of the most dangerous elements of the job. It grinds my gears when the news media refers to it as a “routine” traffic stop. There is nothing routine about a traffic stop after the officer activates the blue lights; therefore, we refer to them as “unknown risk” traffic stops. The officer more than likely doesn’t know the motorist he/she is pulling over. Therefore certain precautions must be taken. Officers must not become complacent on the traffic stop. Complacency is an easy way to get killed. The precautions officers take may make you feel like you’re being treated like a criminal. Remember, officers don’t know you or what’s on your mind and you will be handled accordingly. There are a few rules for a traffic stop that will keep an unplanned encounter from turning into a roadside crime drama.


Movement makes officers leery and simulates adrenaline production. Jumping out of the car and approaching an officer can lead to a misunderstanding. Furthermore, if there is a lot of traffic, the ability to hear each other is reduced. Thus increasing the likelihood of a misunderstanding. Once the officer has signaled you, pull over to the right side of the road and stop. If it’s night time, turn on the overhead light and place your hands on the steering wheel and wait for his/her approach.
A motorist’s bad attitude can tip the scale for or against a ticket.  Kissing the officer’s butt is not necessary; nevertheless,  “Why you stopping me?!” is a good way to obtain a written explanation. After obtaining your driver’s license, the officer will tell you why he/she stopped you. A few other statements can guarantee a nice citation are:

You don’t have anything better to do?

Why don’t you catch some real criminals?

Killing time until the hot doughnuts are ready?


 People get offended when the officer shines his spot lights into the car at night or gives an order to keep your hands in sight. As I’ve said before, we don’t know you and would really like to go home to our families at the end of the shift. Our actions are not to be intimidating or threatening.

Also, don’t get up tight because another officer pulls up. It doesn’t mean we’ve called for back up. A good partner pulls over to check on his/her partner when they advise they’ve stopped a vehicle over radio. A great officer checks on any officer that is pulled over with a motorist. 


If the officer decides to give you a citation, don’t start a hearing on the shoulder. Every citation has a court date. Unless it is a mandatory court appearance, you have the option to go before the judge and argue the case. You will lose in the roadside court room every time.


 Signing the citation is not an admission of guilt. Your signature indicates that you received a copy of the citation. You have the right to refuse to sign the citation and be immediately taken before a magistrate. Translation… Arrested and transported to jail. Claude didn’t want Ray taking a beating over some cornbread and you should not go to jail over a $40 fine. Sign the citation then go home and plan your next move.



Hopefully, this has either provided new insight into the traffic stop or reinforced what you already knew. Traffic stops are a necessary tool for public safety. It is a necessary tool, yet a tool that can be deadly. Between 2003 – 2012, 96 law enforcement officers were killed during traffic stops.* Nearly 1/3 of those officers were killed approaching the vehicle*. For the law enforcement officer the stakes are high. Keep this in mind the next time you’re stopped. Following these rules will help everyone stay at ease and this chance encounter will end on a positive note, even if you were given a citation. 



Checkout Anatomy of a Motor Vehicle Stop: Essentials of Safe Traffic Enforcement by Joseph Petrocelli. This book is the foundation for officer survival curriculum for departments across the country.

 Want a better understanding of why law enforcement does things, send me an email

* FBI LEOKA data 2012