What are My Rights During a Traffic Stop?

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Traffic stops are common and do not mean that you have committed a crime or infraction. As a driver or a passenger, you have certain rights during a traffic stop. The location of your vehicle and what you were doing when you were stopped can also come into play.

What Rights Do You Have When You Are Pulled Over?

Police officers cannot pull you over without probable cause. Legitimate reasons for pulling someone over can be anything from speeding, changing lanes unsafely or having a faulty tail light. Once you have been pulled over for probable cause, the police are allowed to ask you questions, conduct a breathalyzer test or search your car – but only if they have reason to believe you are breaking the law.

If a police officer puts on the car's lights on while driving behind you, you have the right to pull over safely. Put on your right directional and move to the rightmost lane. Stop only when it is safe to do so.

You have the right to stay in your car when pulled over. Police officers may ask you to step out of the vehicle. This is often requested to be sure you don’t have a concealed weapon and to see if you are driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol. If you are able to step out of the vehicle, it is usually best to do so. However, you are within your rights to refuse.

You have the right to refuse a breathalyzer test. Technically, you agreed to submit to such testing by having a driver's license. However, you may decline a breathalyzer; be prepared that an officer can pursue additional action if she believes you to be under the influence.

A police officer has the right to search your car without a warrant only in five circumstances. First, if you agree to the search, law enforcement may move forward. Second, in the instance of “plain view,” an officer may conduct the search if she is able to see something like drugs or illegal weapons without entering your vehicle. Third, if an officer arrests you, the search is considered “incident to arrest” and is permitted. Fourth, if the police officer has probable cause to suspect a crime, she is allowed to search the vehicle. Lastly, “exigent circumstances,” in which a police officer has reason to believe that evidence is about to be destroyed, permits a warrantless search of your vehicle. If a police officer has a warrant, you must let her search your vehicle.

Can Traffic Police Stop You for No Reason?

Traffic police can stop you for no reason, and you are required to stop at checkpoints. Police departments are mandated to have a randomized policy for which cars they stop and check during a traffic stop. However, if you are selected, you must comply.

Read More: Requirements for Police to Make a Traffic Stop

What are the Rights of a Passenger During a Traffic Stop?

During a traffic stop, a passenger’s rights are less well-defined than those of the driver. Passengers cannot be held accountable for the actions of the driver, regardless of what they are. However, the passenger may be required to stay in the vehicle or answer questions by a police officer, pursuant to a 2007 case, Brendlin v. California_._

Can a Police Officer Run Your License Plate for No Reason?

According to Ellison v. United States and similar legal cases, police officers have the authority to run your license plates for no reason or without probable cause and at any time.

Can Police Pull You Over on Private Property?

Rules of the road apply everywhere except on private property, with a few exceptions. Impaired driving, reckless driving, negligent driving, vehicular homicide, vehicular assault and hit-and-run traffic collisions are ticketable or criminal offenses whether they occur on public highways or in the parking lot of the mall. Observing safe driving practices and the rules of the road no matter where you are is a good idea.

Can Police Pull You Over in a Parking Spot?

You can receive a ticket for certain behaviors, even if you are parked. Anytime your vehicle is running, you are required to observe the rules of the road. This is true also of tickets for cellphone use. In most states with laws about using cellphones while driving, you can be ticketed even if you are using your phone while parked, if your car is on.

Rights of drivers and passengers during traffic stops are complex, but if you feel your rights have been violated, you should stand up for yourself.

Tips

  • You have the right to pull over safely, stay in your car and refuse a breathalyzer if you are pulled over. In some circumstances, drivers and passengers must abide by the rules outlined by law enforcement during traffic stops.