It’s something many readers may have experienced at one time during their driving career. You’re cruising down the highway, listening to your favorite tune on the radio or headed into the downtown for a couple quick errands when all of a sudden — blue lights in the rearview mirror.
At first, after you catch your breath and calm your pounding heart, you think, maybe he is just going to pass me? But as you pull to the right of the roadway and stop, the cruiser follows and you still see the blue lights in the mirror. Your next reaction likely varies as you prepare for the pending encounter with a law enforcement officer.
Thanks to a special request from officer Dave Clark, I thought I would go over the “do’s and don’ts of a traffic stop” in this week’s column.
It may only happen to you once or perhaps it’s already happened a few times, but your actions in a motor vehicle stop are very important. First, don’t make an assumption you know why you are being stopped. Although you may believe you were going a bit too fast or slowed through a stop sign, it may very well be for another reason. Never, ever, ever get out of your vehicle and approach the officer — this is one of the most dangerous things you could do. Officers are trained on handling vehicle stops and taught to never become complacent during one. If you are perceived to be aggressive, you could prompt the officer to take a defensive action.
Don’t take your safety belt off before the officer gets to your window; this gives the appearance you weren’t wearing it and can result in a citation. There will be plenty of time to produce your license and registration if he or she asks for it. Don’t start an argument with the officer, regardless of how valid you feel the reason for the stop was. The side of the road is not the place to dispute a traffic citation if one is issued; you will be able to file an appeal through the court if you feel the citation was not warranted.
Remember, not every motorist who is stopped is given a fine. In fact, of the 360 stops made by Amesbury officers in January, 69 received civil violations. Some stops result in an arrest or criminal complaint, but most violators are given a verbal or written warning.
Remember, although you may often see police officers making motor vehicle stops, it is not a routine assignment. We often receive correspondence from other police agencies describing a vehicle involved in suspicious or criminal act, which could be the reason why you were stopped. It’s important for your safety, as well as the officer’s, to remain seated with your hands on the steering wheel until the officer approaches and makes a request. The average motor vehicle stop lasts about five minutes so before too long, you’ll be on your way.
Tom Hanshaw is the crime prevention officer for the Amesbury Police Department.