Series: How to Protect Yourself During a Police Investigation.  Part 4: Traffic Stop Checklist

 Jake Pillsbury
 October 20, 2023

As discussed throughout this series, police interactions can be scary and sometimes dangerous. Getting pulled over by the police is scary, but it’s essential to stay calm and make sure the interaction goes smoothly. If you live in Florida or are visiting, it’s crucial to know how to behave during a traffic stop to avoid causing suspicion.  This will reduce the length of time you spend on the side of the road and decrease the chance of danger. This part of the series is a list of simple steps to help you stay safe during a traffic stop.

Respond Quickly and Pull Over Safely

The beginning of a traffic stop is always the same. You’ll see the flashing disco lights or hear a siren. First, slow down and turn on your right turn signal or emergency lights. It’s important to let the officer know that you’ve seen them and intend to pull over. If you are driving on a major road, exit the highway or turn down a side road. This will keep both you and the officer safer than stopping on the shoulder.

Once off a major roadway, pull over on the right side of the road when it’s safe to do so. Do not stop on the left side of a street or in a center-lane or median. If possible, find a well-lit, safe spot to stop, preferably with other people or open businesses around. Do not make the officer follow you for more than a mile unless you are in a remote area and you feel unsafe.  Make sure your vehicle stops completely. Once stopped, turn on your emergency lights (if you haven’t done so already) and put the car in park.

Stay in the Car

After pulling over, stay inside your vehicle unless the officer instructs you to step out. Rolling your windows down will allow the officer to clearly see throughout the car. This is an easy way to eliminate suspicion so long as there is nothing in the car you don’t want them to see.   Otherwise, roll down your driver-side window enough for the officer to clearly see your face and hands.  Speaking through a barely-cracked window is a sure-fire way to arouse suspicion, so do so at your own risk.

Once the window is down, keep your hands rested on the steering wheel with your palms facing upward.  This allows the officer to see that your hands are empty and eliminates any reasonable fear that you pose an immediate threat. The officer should feel more at ease once they are sure you aren’t armed.

Be Polite and Respectful

When the officer approaches the car, remain polite and respectful for as long as possible. It helps to address them as “officer” or “ma’am/sir.” Remember, whether you respect the police or not, you are trying to get out of the situation as fast and safely as possible. Showing respect can only help. 

Avoid Sudden Movements

Always keep your hands clearly visible during a traffic stop. Do not reach into your pockets.  Do not reach into a bag or purse. Do not put your hands near your waistband. Do not reach into the passenger seat or backseat. Do not try to open the door.  Make sure your passengers remain still and calm. Following this advice is critical to keeping the officer relaxed and feeling safe. This is the best way to minimize your risk of injury or confrontation.

Provide Necessary Information

If the officer asks your name, you are required to provide it.  This is the only question you must answer. When the officer asks for your documents, such as your driver’s license, registration, and insurance, provide them promptly. It’s smart to keep these documents together and in an easily accessible place. The best option is an uncovered compartment in the center console. If that’s not available in your car, your glove compartment or behind a sun-visor is a decent alternative.  Do not reach for anything without first informing the officer you plan to do so. If your ID is inside your wallet, ask for the officer’s permission to grab it out of your pocket before moving.  Do not move quickly and make sure not to put your hands near anything the officer may perceive to be a weapon.

For anyone who carries a weapon in their vehicle, it is best to inform the officer it is present at the beginning of the stop. The worst thing that can happen during a normal traffic stop is the officer observing a weapon they weren’t informed about.  This will put them on edge and could put you in danger.

Communicate Clearly

As stated above. Tell the officer about any movements you intend to make. If you need to reach for something, let the officer know what you’re doing. Clearly identify the location of any weapons.  Otherwise speak as little as possible and clearly state your intention to exercise your rights. If the officer asks for permission to search you or your vehicle, you must clearly state you do not consent. Do not leave anything open to interpretation.

Stay Calm and Silent

If you’re anxious or upset during a traffic stop, it’s a normal feeling.  Try to remain as calm and speak as little as possible.  You do not want to say anything that can be used to justify suspicion.  You have the right to remain silent during a traffic stop, and always better to exercise that right. Tell the officer your name and advise them you don’t want to answer any questions without a lawyer present.  Then stay quiet and let the officer finish their investigation. 

Know your rights

In Florida, you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney if you’re arrested. If the police start asking questions that make you uncomfortable, you can politely say, “I would like to remain silent,” or “I want to speak with a lawyer.”  Refer to Part 2 and Part 3 of this series for a very basic explanation of your rights.  We always advise our clients to state they are represented by a lawyer and want the lawyer present for any questioning. Do not be afraid to repeat yourself if necessary.


Traffic stops can be a little nerve-wracking, but following these steps will increase your odds of staying safe. Know your rights, communicate clearly, stay calm, and do your best to keep the officer feeling safe. By doing so, you’ll make the situation less stressful for both you and the officer. Stay safe out there!

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