How Should a Motorist React When Stopped by Police?



By: Travis A. Newton J.D.



It is common for a motorist to experience nervousness or even fear when involved in a routine police traffic stop. Despite the initial emotional reaction and possible surprise of being stopped by police, it is important for the motorist to remain calm and immediately begin to look for a safe place to pull over.


The motorist should pull over as quickly (and safely) as possible while also observing traffic laws and public safety. It is important to pull over in a safe but expedited fashion to avoid possible criminal charges such as failure to stop for a blue light (a serious crime in South Carolina punishable by up to three years in jail). 

Once the vehicle is safely stopped the motorist should roll down the window, turn off the engine, and put both hands on the steering wheel. This action sends a clear message (to the law enforcement officer) that the motorist intends on cooperating. Sometimes even the most cooperative motorist may be stopped by a police officer who appears nervous or agitated. A law enforcement officer is killed almost every day in the United States while conducting a “routine traffic stop.” It is easy to understand why a police officer may seem a bit nervous upon initial contact with an unknown motorist. My years of experience as a criminal defense attorney lead me to the conclusion that 99% (plus) of police officers are honest and hard working men and women. So how should a motorist react when stopped by the (less than) one percent (i.e. bad apples) of law enforcement?


The motorist should still obey all police commands in order to protect the safety of the motorist, the police officer and the public. A traffic stop is not the time to determine guilt or innocence (or to protest). If a motorist feels he or she is being treated unfairly, the motorist should immediately protect herself or himself by obeying all police commands and exercising his or her constitutional right to remain silent.


Once the police officer makes initial contact (with the motorist) the motorist should remain with both hands on the steering wheel. The motorist should not reach for anything until the law enforcement officer asks for the motorist's drivers license and vehicle registration. Once the police officer asks for the motorist's drivers license and vehicle registration the motorist should comply. After handing both the license and registration to the police officer the motorist should return both hands to the steering wheel. The motorist should not exit the vehicle unless the police officer has requested the motorist to exit.


Remember, as a citizen of the United States you are presumed innocent until proven guilty so a traffic stop is not the time to protest. Anything you say can and will be used against you so it is important to remain silent while obeying all police commands. If you are arrested, your first call should be to a criminal defense attorney or traffic lawyer. If you resist arrest, you will probably face additional charge(s) in a criminal court. Look out for your own best interest with the following procedure:


1. Roll down the window.

2. Turn the vehicle engine off.

3. Put both hands on the steering wheel.

4. Obey all police commands

5. Exercise your constitutional right to remain silent.



Travis Newton practices law  in South Carolina's 10th and 13th Judicial Circuits including all of Upstate South Carolina. Newton & Campbell Law P.A. is located at 111 Sharpe Street Anderson, South Carolina 29621 and can be reached at (864) 965-9148. 






The materials available at this web site are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of and access to this Web site or any of the e-mail links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between Travis A. Newton or Rame L. Campbell  and the user or browser. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of the firm or any individual attorney.





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