We have all had that sinking feeling after seeing the flashing red and blue lights behind us. For some, it is a moment of panic and for others it is that moment of realization that they have been caught. There are a few basic reasons why a driver may see flashing lights on police cars. We may be responding to an emergency, blocking a road to protect a hazard or crash scene, attempting to stop you for a traffic violation or host of other circumstances. This month, I’d like to discuss the proper, safe and legal ways for drivers to react for a traffic stop scenario.
The main reason deputies, police or other officer’s conduct traffic stops is to enforce the law and to encourage voluntary compliance with these laws. The goal is to reduce injuries and deaths on our roadways. Let’s face it, if you knew the police were never watching traffic, would you all still obey the rules? We understand that no one likes getting a ticket, but if a ticket or warning deters you from committing the violation again, then it’s done the job in educating you.
Routine traffic stops, as they are called, sometimes turn out to be anything but routine. This part of our job is typically one of the most hazardous for us. Each year many law enforcement officers are killed during traffic stops. Officers find uninsured drivers, drivers with suspended licenses, impaired drivers, illegal firearms, drugs, murderers and fugitives. Findings like these occur daily with us. This is why deputies and officers are trained to place a great deal of emphasis on their safety and take a defensive posture and have another deputy present at the stop until the risk of confrontation has diminished. Did you know Ted Bundy and Timothy McVeigh, among other infamous criminals, were caught during traffic stops unrelated to their crimes?
What Can You Do When Being Stopped?
Firstly, Florida law, 316.126-1a regulates how drivers are supposed to stop when emergency vehicles are approaching. You “shall stop and remain in position” at the closet edge of the road, as far off the pavement as possible until the authorized emergency vehicle has passed, unless otherwise directed by any law enforcement officer. Now, if we pull up behind you, there are additional tips to follow.
When stopped by any law enforcement officer, under our laws and ordinances, you are expected to cooperate. Just as the officer strives to maintain a level of professionalism during the traffic stop, drivers and other occupants can do their part, too, by following these simple guidelines.
-When being signaled with flashing lights and sometimes accompanied by a siren, by an officer to stop, look for the nearest safe place to stop your vehicle as far out of the lane of traffic as possible. Pull off to the right as far as possible off the main road or into a parking lot, unless otherwise directed. Signal your move to the side of the roadway.
-If in a dark or secluded area and you are unsure who is trying to stop you, turn on your flashers to acknowledge the officer and drive slowly to a better lit or occupied area. You should also dial 911 to inquire whether a real deputy or officer is stopping you.
-Once stopped, stay inside your vehicle unless asked to step out by the officer.
-Remain calm. If there are passengers, also ask them to remain quiet and cooperative with all reasonable requests. Do not let anyone in your vehicle make threatening statements or gestures to the officers.
-Keep your seat belt fastened until the officer has seen you wearing it.
-Roll your windows all the way down and keep your hands visible, preferably on the steering wheel. Do not make sudden movements, duck down or begin to reach for your license, registration or insurance until asked. We don’t know who you are or if you’re reaching for a gun. If it’s night, please turn on the interior light.
-Hang up your cell phone and turn off the radio to facilitate communications. Besides, it’s just rude.
-Remember, the first words spoken by you (and the officer) may very well determine the tone of the interaction during the traffic stop.
-If any of the requested documents are out of reach, tell the officer where they are and reach for them slowly after being asked to do so.
-Give the officer a chance to explain the violation. Most officers are trained to ask for identification first before providing an explanation of the stop.
-Avoid provoking the officer or showing off in front of other occupants. In many cases you will be on video and audio, which will be used later in court.
-Do not argue with the officer at the roadside. If you disagree with the citation or the officer’s actions, discuss it later with the law enforcement agency or the judge.
-Don’t be surprised if another patrol car appears. This is usually done to assure the officer’s safety.
-Be flexible. There are many issues of safety and officer concerns that may be unique to your traffic stop.
-If you receive a citation, a signature is not always needed. If you refuse to take the ticket, we are allowed to serve you by tossing it into your car. If you are asked to sign a citation for a criminal offense, you must sign it. This is not an admission of guilt. It only means that you received the citation. If you refuse to sign this citation, it will result in your arrest.
Officers on the side of the road- Move Over!
If you see any law officers, fire rescue, ambulance, tow truck or garbage truck crews with their lights flashing, you are required by law to move over one lane (NOT by crossing into oncoming traffic) and if that’s not possible, slow down to 20 under the posted speed limit to pass safely. We’d rather not be hit by your car.
If you see law enforcement, walking around a home or business, out with their lights flashing or having their guns pointed at somebody, DO NOT stop and ask directions to Disney or see if everything is alright. We are probably quite busy and do not have the time to speak with you. Move away and ask questions later. We appreciate this.
Please remember that no traffic stop or police situation is routine. Your cooperation with the officers and the following of instructions is an important factor for everybody’s safety. I hope these simple tips help to calm your nerves a bit when being pulled over. Of course the easiest way to avoid being pulled over is to just follow the traffic laws. The safety of you and the law enforcement officer is the number one priority during each traffic stop. Please drive safely.
By Deputy Jerry Weiland
Osceola County Sheriff’s Office
The above article appears in the September 2019 edition of the Celebration News