Traffic Stop Etiquette

or, “How not to get a gun pointed at your face!”

As Stephen pointed out here, there are a few basic things to do on a traffic stop when you get pulled over:

  1. If its night, turn on your dome lights.
  2. window down, radio off
  3. hands on the wheel until they come to the window
  4. inform them where your DL and insurance are before you reach for them

I’ll expand on those above first:

1. Turn on your dome light, and don’t complain about all of my bright lights. I’ve got my highbeams on, my spot light pointed in the direction of your vehicle, my take down lights, and the emergency lights (red & blues) on the light bar, in addition to a powerful LED light I shine in the car. I know it can be blinding at first, but if things go well on the initial contact, an officer may elect to turn some of the lights off.

2a. Radio off, cell phone out of sight too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pulled a vehicle over, their cell phone goes off, and they answer it real quick to say “will call you back, I just got pulled over”. If they are big texters, they’ll continue on their text message conversation while I’m in the middle of the stop. I say out of sight, because it’s easy to be tempted to answer real quick, or just do a scan of that text message.

2b. On windows, the passenger side method of approach is just as accepted these days as driver side approaches on traffic stops. It’s actually kinda funny how many people I’ve scared by tapping on their passenger window to get them to roll it down. The best thing to do is roll down your driver side window, but be mindful you may have to roll down your passenger window as well. This may be a pain if you don’t have electric windows, but we don’t know that until we make contact.

2c. If you have tinted windows, roll down as many windows as possible. I know it’s summer in Texas and it sucks to let all your AC out, but please just do it. My procedure for dark tinted windows I can’t see in, is to stop near the back of the vehicle and tell the driver to roll down a back window and/or place their hands on the dash where I can see them. I’m not trying to be an asshole, I want to get home safely, and I’m sure you’d hate to get a gun pointed at you because you were doing something innocent the officer took for being suspicious.

3. 9 and 3, 2 and 10, 12 and 12, it doesn’t matter. The first thing I’m looking for is hands. That means your hands and your passenger’s hands as well. Don’t tell your passengers to place their hands on the dash, the back of the seat, etc. That tells us you’ve had experience to dealing with us on a not-so-nice level. Instead, have your passengers place their hands in their lap where they are easily seen.

4. Inform, don’t ask. Asking permission to go into the glove box/center console/wallet is a time waster. Saying “Sir/ma’am, I’m reaching in my back left pocket to get my wallet for my ID” is a lot better than “Sir/ma’am, can I reach into my back left pocket to get my wallet?”, cause we have to respond before you can take that action. State what your going to do, wait a second, then do it.

Now, these are my additions:

1. If you’ve got a car load of people, be it family or friends, keep them calm. I pulled over a Honda Civic 4 dr with 4 20-something year olds at 2:30 in the morning as they were coming back from a concert in Houston. One passenger was going beserk while one was starting to giggle, especially after seeing me in my brown polyester pornstar pants and cowboy hat.

2. If your ask to step out of the vehicle, don’t automatically assume you’ve done something wrong or are going to jail. Like in the above stop, I asked her to step out because I didn’t want to have to deal with her friends. Some times if a person hasn’t pulled far enough off of the road, it’s easier to ask them to step out real quick and conduct the stop safely there or make a passenger side approach. A majority of the time if I pull over a family going somewhere, I’ll ask the driver to step out. The driver gets to save face with their family if I chew their ass, and the kiddies don’t have to hear my bad language if I have to be stern. And sometimes, especially if a bad infraction that I’m going to let slide, I’ll say something along the lines of “A Trooper would have you in cuffs and would be taking you to jail right now.” You don’t want your wife/husband or kids to hear that. I really don’t want them to hear that.

3. Don’t ask for a warning. It’s the officer’s discretion whether or not to cite or give a warning, and asking for a warning can ruin that discretion. Most of the time anyway (well, for me), I’ve already decided whether I’m writing a citation or warning before I even get out of the car. I say most of the time, because stuff like expired registration/inspection, expired insurance, etc don’t show up until I actually look at the vehicle.

4a. If you’ve got a CHL and are carrying, as soon as we finish with our introductory spiel, tell us. “I’m a CHL holder, carrying a pistol located (here). My license is located (here).” After that, it’s up to the individual officer as to what they want to do. If it’s on your person, they may ask you to step out and disarm you. If it’s in the vehicle, they may ask you to step out and leave it at that. Some officers say “okay, don’t go for it and we’ll all be fine” and leave it at that. Everyone has their own ‘I got pulled over by an officer while carry and X happened’ story. Every officer does things differently, per what they feel like they have to do to stay safe and what their department says they have to do.

4b. If you’ve got a CHL and don’t tell us, we’ll find out when we run your DL.

The obvious stuff that everyone should be doing already:

1. As soon as you know your getting pulled over, turn on your hazards and slow down. That lets us know that you know so we don’t call out a pursuit when your just really looking for a good spot to stop.

2. Put your vehicle in park. Don’t leave it in drive and just ride the brake. If it’s an automatic, we know when you put it in park because of the back up lights. If it’s a standard, put the parking brake on.

3. Stay in the vehicle unless told otherwise. This mainly applies to the older generations, since they were always told to meet the officer at the back of the vehicle. Getting out of the vehicle right off the bat sends up more than a few red falgs.

4. Don’t try and argue a citation on the side of the road. Once it is written, it’s written. If you don’t agree with it, that’s what we have the court system for. Speeders are common for this.

On the traffic laws:

1. While we can verify insurance through the computer, your still required to have a copy of your insurance card or bond paperwork either on you or in the vehicle. You can have valid insurance put still get a citation or warning for ‘failure to maintain proof of financial responsibility’ because you didn’t have the card or paperwork. Handing me a cellphone with the insurance information pulled up on it doesn’t work either.

2. Your not required to show us your registration reciept. Your registration is the sticker on the windshield.

3. If you’ve got a headlight out, but it works when you turn on your highbeams, you’ve still got a headlight out. Your required by law to turn your highbeams off.

4. Yes your required to display a front license plate, and it is required to be on the front of the car, not slid up on the dash or taped to the windshield. I don’t care whether New Mexico, Oklahoma, or Lousiana doesn’t require it, because your in Texas, with a Texas registered vehicle. If you don’t have a mounting bracket, take it to the dealer and get one installed. If you don’t want to do that, find a way to zip tie on.

So, with all that said, any questions? :D


11 Responses to “Traffic Stop Etiquette”

  1. | brown polyester pornstar pants and cowboy hat.


  2. You can have valid insurance put still get a citation or warning for ‘failure to maintain proof of financial responsibility’ because you didn’t have the card or paperwork. Handing me a cellphone with the insurance information pulled up on it doesn’t work either.

    I’ve wondered about this. I don’t know and haven’t looked at the exact wording of the law but why wouldn’t a smart phone with current insurance information be acceptable?

    It is proof of financial responsibility isn’t it?

  3. In your training were there any cases of a CHL in Texas shooting an officer or even during a traffic stop?

    Just curious.

    • No where in any of my training did we go over a case where a CHL’r shot a peace officer.

      That’s not saying it has or hasn’t happened, we just have never covered it.

      Removed second half due to new post.

      • I figure most policies are in place because of something that previously happen.

  4. Thanks so much for expanding upon good stop behavior. I always appreciate when someone is willing to share a little knowledge!

  5. […] Original comment (since edited:) No where in any of my training did we go over a case where a CHL’r shot a peace officer. […]

  6. […] stop etiquette, part 2 A continuation of Traffic Stop Etiquette, with more information and some updates to your […]

  7. I read in Texas you can legally have a handgun in your house (at least 18 years of age) and the vehicle is an extension of your dwelling, and you can have a weapon in your vehicle, as long as its out of sight. Not concealed on your person mind you, but in the glovebox or in the middle compartment, and you notify the officer when he pulls you over. I’m 19 and I don’t want to go to jail for having a gun in my car. Please let me know if I’m mistakin. OFFICER ONLY I don’t want biased opinions.

  8. […] This was posted by Sean as a comment to my Traffic Stop Etiquette article. […]

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