What NOT To Do When You're Pulled Over By The Police


Much like death and taxes, getting pulled over by the police is a near certainty in life. Even if you’ve done nothing wrong, something as simple as a broken brake light can be a catalyst for getting pulled over. Do you know how to protect yourself and your rights when pulled over by the police? 

In this month’s post we’ll go over what NOT to do when you’re pulled over the police. We’ll talk about best practices, along with a reminder of your rights when pulled over.  


Don’t Pull Over Until it is Safe

Flashing lights behind you don’t mean you must pull over immediately. While sometimes there will be an immediately safe place to pull over, some situations will not allow you to pull over safely immediately. These include:

  • A highway or road with no shoulder

  • A windy road at night

  • A high-traffic area

While you do not want to go on for too long, you should hold off on pulling over until it is reasonably safe to do so. This is safer not only for you, but also for the police officer. 

To let the know the officer you intend to pull over, I recommend putting on your emergency hazards and driving slowly. This way they will know you aren’t trying to flee, and are simply trying to find a safe space to pull over.


What Should I Do Once I Am Parked On The Side of the Road?

Stay calm. Just because you’ve been pulled over does not mean you are in trouble. All you can do now is protect yourself from further harm or legal issues.

Right off the bat, we recommend turning off your engine, and if it is dark out, turning on your dome light. As you see the officer approaching, roll down your window. Put your hands on the wheel so the officer can see them as he or she approaches. Don’t start gathering papers or reaching for the glove box until they arrive and instruct you.

Once the officer has arrived, be sure you are moving deliberately and announcing any time you are reaching for something. You don’t want the officer to misinterpret any of your movements, turning a potentially small traffic stop into a catastrophic misunderstanding. 

Don’t Leave Your Car

Unless an officer explicitly tells you to get out of your car, do not leave your vehicle. Exiting your car may make the officer interpret your movements as aggressive, leading to an escalated situation that simply does not need to happen.

Don’t Run

Never, under any circumstances, is it a good idea to run from the cops. Consider:

  • The police already have your license plate number. You can run, but you won’t be able to hide.

  • It is not safe. Once you are running, the cops will now view you as a threat. This means they could unleash dogs on you, or if they interpret your movement as threatening, potentially even physically harm you.

  • They’ll now have an additional charge once they do inevitably catch up with you on top of any charges you’ll have for your initial infraction.

Running can turn a small incident into one that will be costly for you and dangerous for everyone involved. 

Don’t Argue With or Be Rude To The Officer

Nobody wants to be issued a citation, particularly if you feel you’ve done nothing wrong. Often, the stress and frustration caused by being pulled over and questioned by a police officer will cause drivers to be rude or argumentative to an officer.

While this behavior is understandable, it will not do you any favors. The best way to deal with officers is to be civil and respectful, recognizing their power in the situation. While at times this can be difficult – particularly if you’ve done nothing wrong – it can only help you.

Arguing with the officer, or disrespecting them in any way, could lead to them getting frustrated and escalating the situation. This could lead to increased fines, new charges, or even an unwarranted arrest. 

Being respectful on the other hand, could lead to the officer being more understanding of your predicament and letting you off with a warning for minor offenses. 



Don’t Engage in Conversation Or Try To Explain Yourself By Answering Questions

Everything you say to the officer during the traffic stop is admissible in court, so anything you say can and likely will be used against you when attempting to fight the ticket. 

If the encounter begins escalating from just a traffic stop to something more (such as a DUII investigation) the less you say the better. 

Once the officer starts asking you questions your best response is to simply and politely say, “I am not answering questions, I am not taking field sobriety tests, I am not granting consent to search, and I want to speak to a lawyer.”

Often police officers will try to coax you into a discussion or invite you to “prove” your innocence.  Don’t do it. 

Understand, by remaining silent you will surely annoy the officer, but from this point onward you should not say anything except, ,  “I am not answering questions, I am not taking field sobriety tests, I am not granting consent to search, and I want to speak to a lawyer.”

Don’t Submit To A Field Sobriety Test

Similar to not explaining yourself, don’t unknowingly implicate yourself by taking a field sobriety test.

While refusing a breathalyzer test will lead to an automatic 1-year license suspension in Oregon, this is not the case with field sobriety tests. This means you should never submit to one, even if you are stone sober. 

As opposed to a breathalyzer, which is an objective test in which your blood alcohol is measured, field sobriety tests are decided by the officer who pulled you over subjectively. This officer may be biased, in which case you are not going to get a fair shot at justice. 

In attempt to get you to submit to the test, police officers will often site the Rohrs Admonishment, which states that your refusal can be used against you in court. While this is true, it does not trigger a guilty verdict and an experienced attorney will be able to get past it in court.

Ultimately, there are no direct legal repercussions to refusing a field sobriety test, so never submit to one.


Don’t Consent to a Search

In order for an officer to search your car without a warrant, they’ll need either probable cause or your consent.

Probable cause could be anything from: 

  • A smell indicating marijuana has been smoked in your car

  • An open bottle of alcohol in visible site

  • Anything suspicious indicating you’ve been party to a crime

Any of these must be in “plain view,” meaning they couldn’t be digging around to find them.

If The Officer Does Not Have a Warrant or Probable Cause

Sans a warrant or probable cause, the only way an officer can search your car is with your consent. 

Even if you know you’ve done nothing wrong, we still recommend not consenting to a search of your vehicle or person. They could uncover something you don’t remember leaving in your car, and there is no real benefit from letting the officer conduct the search. 

Note: The officer may try to be tricky and coax you into consent by asking something like “you wouldn’t mind if I checked your car since you have done nothing wrong, would you?” Refusing a search in this scenario is your fourth amendment right, and you should not feel pressure to allow the officer to conduct the search if you are not comfortable. 

If The Officer Has a Warrant

While you should never consent to a search if the officer doesn’t have a warrant, if they do have one you must let them search your vehicle. Do not put up a fight.

Keep in mind as well that anything the officer finds during the search, even if it has nothing to do with what the warrant is for, the “plain sight” rule still applies. This means anything else incriminating found can still be used against you in court. 


Have You Been Pulled Over And Been Treated Unfairly? Contact Adam Greenman Law

Have you been pulled over by the police and need legal representation in court? Contact me today at 503-227-3800. Your consultation is always free and confidential. 

Adam Greenman
Adam Greenman has been a trusted criminal defense and personal injury attorney in Portland for over 15 years. A graduate of Lewis and Clark School of Law and an experienced former prosecutor, Adam is a proud member of the Oregon State Bar Association, Oregon Trial Lawyers Association, and the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. He is known for providing personal, one-on-one attention to clients.