For most people, interaction with law enforcement can be a stressful situation. Whether it’s warranted or not, both recent and decade-long examples have brought upon fear for those who were supposed to be peace officers. This is especially evident in traffic stops. As Stanford’s open policing project indicates, minorities, including Hispanic and African-American drivers, are stopped and searched more often as compared with drivers of other groups.
But as the world grows more progressively, finding the perfect balance between your knowing your rights and fulfilling your responsibilities can be the key to ensuring your safety during traffic stops. With that in mind, here is what you have to know to avoid being pulled over and to keep yourself safe whenever you do.
Your Basic Rights Regarding Traffic Stops
Knowing your constitutional rights can help alleviate your stress and fear whenever you get pulled over. And the most relevant ones usually revolve around the first, fourth, and fifth amendments.
Your freedom of speech is not only used for you to state your frustrations but also to verbally and officially word out your inquiries and stances. You can use this to exercise your right to know the grounds of the traffic stop. You can also demand answers regarding your possible detention. “Am I free to leave?” and “Am I being lawfully detained?” are good questions to remember in case of detention.
And it will be beneficial to keep in mind that you have the right to be released on bail as well. If you’ve already posted bail, whether through bail bonds or personal bonds, then they will have no right to legally detain you anymore.
You are also entitled to refuse a search for both your person and your car. Just remember to avoid physically resisting a search as much as possible. If there are no grounds to search your property or yourself, then stating that you do not consent to a search will be enough to stop them.
And you have the right to remain silent as well. This will help avoid further incriminating yourself. But keep in mind that the fifth amendment does not mean you can refuse to hand over your license and registration. Checking your identity can help both the officers and yourself avoid further problems, after all.
Possible Reasons for Pull-overs
Driving over the speed limit is the most common reason why drivers get pulled over. According to a survey conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or NHTSA, overspeeding caused 9,717 fatalities in 2017 alone. That’s why stopping speeding drivers is the top priority of traffic officers.
But speeding is not the only cause related to the speed limit. Driving far below the speed limit can also cause suspicion. The suspicion is usually derived from the assumption of driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs. If you’re going extremely slow on a highway, you might more likely cause an accident as well. And this can be enough of a reason for officers to check your current driving capabilities.
Improper lane usage
Swerving or the unsafe and abrupt change of lane on the road can cause danger to both you and other motorists. Keep in mind that you need to signal your lane change through your blinkers for at least 3 seconds before your move. Changing lanes within an intersection can warrant a stop, as well. And do take note that continuously using the left lane without passing by other vehicles can also catch traffic enforcers’ attention.
As depicted in movies and TV shows, busted taillights and headlights are also one of the most common causes for being pulled over. The lack of functioning lights from both the front and rear ends can decrease your visibility. Meaning, other drivers won’t be able to spot you on time. They can also impair your vision. That means you won’t have a full view of everything happening on the road. Both of which increase the probability of vehicular accidents.
Other examples of equipment violations that can cause traffic stops and tickets are broken signal lights and brake lights. Failure to inform other motorists of your spatial intentions can lead to accidents, especially when driving at high speeds.
The NHTSA states that 1.6 million crashes are attributed to texting while driving each year. They also reported 3,142 fatalities in 2019 due to distracted driving. That is why numerous states have already put anti-texting laws in place.
Take note that these anti-texting laws aren’t only limited to physical texting. Social media usage, reading of emails, and any other visual uses of an electronic device that can distract you from on-the-road changes may lead to police officers pulling you over instantly.
Another example considered as hazardous driving is tailgating. The law dictates that all motorists must leave an estimate of 15 feet or one car length between other vehicles on the road. Keep in mind that the level of danger regarding the space between two vehicles is within the present officers’ discretion. So, it would be wiser and safer to follow this rule at all times.
The bottom line
Information regarding your constitutional rights will be detrimental in avoiding possible dangerous altercations with law enforcement. But knowing the possible reasons for getting pulled over will be more beneficial in helping you avoid the whole problem in the first place. After all, prevention is always better than cure.