You’re driving down the road, you glance in your rearview and see a police officer following you, lights flashing. Maybe there’s a short blast of a siren. You’re being signaled to pull over.
Since this is not an everyday occurrence for most people, it’s easy to panic. Is there a proper way to comply, certain things you should or shouldn’t do once you’ve stopped?
Lt. Shane Fann, who oversees Standards and Training for the Fort Oglethorpe Police Department, says there are things that will make the experience less stressful.
First, says Fann, “remain calm and slow down. Look for a safe place to pull over and signal where you’ll do that.”
Fann says it’s okay, even good, to pull into a parking lot where traffic does not create hazards and it’s easier for you and the officer to hear each other.
You can put your window down, Fann says. “It’s a good idea to keep your hands on your steering wheel. Don’t reach for anything or make any sudden movements and ask any passengers to also remain calm and still.”
If the officer doesn’t approach your vehicle immediately, says Fann, it may be because he’s running your tag (checking it in a database).
“When the officer approaches your vehicle,” says Fann, “he should introduce himself and tell you why he pulled you over. He will probably ask for your driver’s license and he may ask for proof of insurance and for your registration.”
It’s a good idea, says Fann, to tell an officer where your information is before you retrieve it: My license is in my pocket or purse; my registration is in my glove compartment.
Fann suggests that if you have a firearm in the vehicle, you tell the officer immediately, including sharing where the weapon is and whether you have a permit for it. “I always appreciate someone letting me know that,” he says.
What if you disagree with an officer’s reason for stopping you? Maybe you don’t feel you were speeding or think you did come to a complete stop at that intersection.
“An argument on the side of the road is not a good thing,” says Fann. “You’ll have a chance to plead your case in traffic court.”
Fann says when it comes to speeding, officers depend on two ways of making a judgment. They are trained in visually determining a person’s speed. They must do 75-100 visual estimates of speed within five miles per hour of actual speed to meet training standards. Officers are also trained in and equipped with radar and/or LIDAR.
Additionally, says Fann, officers are trained to deal with a great variety of situations, including asking people about handicaps or health conditions that might affect their driving. Fann says he has encountered situations where diabetics were driving erratically and needed medical attention.
Other training includes Verbal Judo, Tactical Diffusion Strategies, Crisis Intervention Techniques, and De-escalation Techniques.
What doesn’t help, says Fann, is getting angry or confrontational. “We’re doing our job.”
If an officer feels you are in violation of the law, he or she might give you a verbal or written warning, a citation, or in more serious cases, he might arrest you.
A citation includes a fine. You can avoid going to court by simply paying the fine, says Fann, but that means you’re admitting your guilt. Or you can go to court and explain to a judge why you feel you shouldn’t be fined.
Certain violations will result in points against your driver’s license. Accumulate 15 points in a 24-month period, and your license will be suspended.
The list of offenses that will earn you points against your license is long and specific. The most egregious offenses garner 6 points, things like driving 34 mph or more over the speed limit, driving aggressively, and unlawfully passing a school bus.
There are a lot of 3-point violations, including failing to obey a traffic signal, tampering with a traffic sign or signal while driving, going slower than a posted minimum speed, driving too close to a bicyclist, coasting, crossing a fire hose and vehicular feticide (causing the death of a fetus).
Fann says the policy of the Fort Oglethorpe Police Department is for officers to treat others the way they’d like to be treated, but he says the police can face a lot of challenging situations, from rudeness to drunkenness or worse.
“We are here to serve and protect,” says Fann.