Traffic stops aren’t a thing to be feared, but there are some things that will make the event easier for everyone. Here are some areas of interest that will broaden your knowledge of interacting with law enforcement in a routine vehicle traffic stop.
Many of us, myself included, have experienced a vehicle traffic stop, whether on the streets of our neighborhood or on a fast-moving highway. It’s important to note that traffic stops are not always for a potential violation of the Texas Transportation Code. Often they are performed to call attention to a potentially hazardous condition with your vehicle such as an under-inflated tire, a vehicle door not closed completely, or smoke emanating from the vehicle, etc. Things that if not brought to the attention of the driver could result in a more serious condition.
When you first see the sheriff’s vehicle, pull over quickly and safely, letting the officer know you understand and are complying. Use your signal and pull as far to the right shoulder as you can. Your goal is to make it clear that you understand what is required of you.
After the vehicle stops
•Always be calm and polite during a vehicle traffic stop. Just like you, the deputy is just doing a job for your safety and the safety of the public at large.
•Roll down your window, turn off the engine and place your hands on the steering wheel. If it’s nighttime, turn on your interior lights. Do not reach for documentation, driver’s license, vehicle info, etc., since deputies are trained to spot drivers reaching for hidden items or trying to hide items, and it is likely your actions may be misinterpreted. You might be reaching for your registration, but for all the deputy knows, you might be reaching for a weapon.
•Upon request, show the deputy, your driver’s license and proof of insurance.
•If the deputy asks to look inside your vehicle, you can refuse to consent to the search. However, if the deputy believes your car contains evidence of a crime, your consent is not needed to search it.
•If you are suspicious that the deputy is not really a deputy (such as if you were pulled over by an unmarked car), ask politely to see the deputy’s photo identification and badge. If you still are unsure, you can ask the deputy to call a supervisor to the scene.
•If you are in possession of a firearm, whether in the vehicle or on your person immediately notify the deputy of the weapon and indicate where the weapon is.
Leaving the vehicle
You should not get out of your vehicle unless asked. Be mindful of the deputy’s concern for safety as well, so communicate that you understand what is being asked of you and avoid any threatening words or movements.
If the deputy asks you to exit the vehicle, you should do so calmly and carefully, with no sudden movements. If the deputy has a reason to believe you are armed, the deputy can pat down your outer clothing. If the deputy finds something suspicious, the deputy can reach in and grab the concealed object. Please keep in mind that the deputy is trained to remain in a position that will enhance the deputy’s safety as well as your safety and the safety of others. The deputy’s actions and communications are not intended to offend you.
Citation or arrest
If you receive a traffic citation, keep in mind that signing and accepting the ticket is not an admission of guilt. Arguing with the deputy is unlikely to change the outcome during the traffic stop. Instead, you can contest the ticket in court at a later time.
If you are arrested, even if you believe the arrest is unfair or unjust, do not challenge the deputy’s action in the field. Arguing and fighting with the deputy will only cause problems. You have the right to challenge the deputy’s action in court.
If you believe one of my deputies has acted improperly or violated your rights, or the rights of others, my office has procedures in place to address your concerns, so please feel free to contact me personally for a speedy and just resolution to your concerns.
Greg Capers is Sheriff of San Jacinto County.