Drive down any road in America, and you’ll see a traffic stop. The police performed nearly 29 million of them in 2018. That’s just shy of one stop every second.
You will get into a traffic stop at one point. It may come without warning. You can get pulled over and arrested, even if you did nothing wrong.
Many people get confused about stops. What are the laws that produce them? What rights does a driver or passenger have?
Know the law so you can get through your stops without issue. Here is your quick guide.
Traffic Stop Law
The principle that animates traffic stops is probable cause. An officer must have a strong and neutral reason to pull you over and detain you.
If an officer observes that someone was swerving while they were driving, they have reasonable suspicion to suspect a DUI. Reasonable suspicion does not include racial profiling or a “gut feeling.”
The police can run a roadblock checkpoint. These checkpoints must be random. The police must pull over all drivers and talk to them.
They also must have a good reason to conduct a checkpoint. One common one is to check for drunk drivers. They can also check vehicles if there is a dangerous suspect on the loose.
Besides these basic principles, traffic stops are largely unregulated. The police are not required to tell drivers why they were pulled over. It is a common procedure to check for a license and registration, but it is not required by law.
The police can pull you over if they suspect you committed any type of offense. They can use broad discretion when issuing a punishment. They can give you a formal traffic citation, or they can let you off with a warning.
DUI laws vary from state to state. You should check your local laws, as well as the laws of any state you may drive through. There are a few general factors that you can keep in mind.
It is illegal in every state for drivers to operate a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This includes marijuana, opioids, and prescription medications. It does not matter if the drugs are legalized.
Officers have many tools to decide if someone is under the influence. They can look into a car to see if there is alcohol or drugs. They can smell or look at a person to notice signs of drug use.
They can ask drivers and passengers to perform field sobriety tests. These tests examine coordination, cognitive functioning, and sight. They can also ask drivers to perform a breathalyzer test.
Officers examine the blood alcohol content (BAC) of individuals. If a driver’s BAC exceeds legal limits, they will be arrested.
But they can still get charged with a DUI if their BAC is below the limit. If their drug consumption impaired them, that constitutes a DUI.
What to Do At a Traffic Stop
When you see a police car on the side of the road, slow down. Give them at least one lane of room, even if they have their lights off.
If a police car tails you and flashes its lights, pull over to the side of the road. Signal your turn with your blinkers, then make a smooth turn to the side. Come to a complete stop, then shut your car off and remove your keys from the ignition.
Turn on all of your interior lights, roll down your windows, and unlock your doors. Take a deep breath. Many traffic stops end with the officer letting the driver go.
Grab your license, insurance, and registration. Then put both hands on the wheel and wait for the officer to come to you. Do not make any sudden movements for the entirety of the stop.
You must hand over your paperwork if the officer asks for it. In most states, you must tell the officer your name if they ask for it.
But besides that one question, you do not have to answer anything else. Most officers ask, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” They are doing this to implicate you.
State, “I wish to assert my right to remain silent to all questions.” If they ask you another question, invoke your right again.
The officer may become angry. They may insist that if you answer their questions, you can go. Do not fall for this. Affirm your right to remain silent.
What to Do At a Checkpoint or DUI Stop
When you see a checkpoint in front of you, do not panic. If you can turn off the road, consider doing so. If you can’t, drive forward under the speed limit.
You have the same rights through all interactions with the police. You do not have to answer their questions beyond, “What is your name?”
You do not have to consent to searches of your person or vehicle. If they ask to make a search, say no.
If the officer asks you to step out of the vehicle, step out. But you can refuse to take field sobriety and breathalyzer tests. Your license may be suspended, but the police will have no evidence to convict you of a DUI.
If you get arrested for any reason, affirm your right to silence. Contact an attorney right away.
Keep in mind that different attorneys specialize in different aspects of the law. If the police suspect you injured someone, you should call a personal injury attorney. If they suspect you of drunk driving, you should reach out to a DUI lawyer.
Know the Law
Police officers think you don’t know the law. That’s how they get away with traffic stops and arrests. But you can fight back. A cop can pull you over based on reasonable suspicion. This includes suspicion for driving under the influence.
But you have the right to remain silent, refuse searches, and decline tests. Pull over and give the officer your identification.
Then refuse to answer their questions. If they arrest you, call a lawyer right away. The law works for you, not for the police. Follow our coverage for essential legal guides.