How to Handle Being Pulled Over

Police VehicleIt is possible that a careful driver could pass their entire driving career without being pulled over by the police. It's a situation that is not covered in our provincial drivers manual Learn to Drive Smart and may only receive a brief mention during formal driver training.

My parents were responsible for my driver training and Dad's instructions were simply that if I was stopped by the police it was "Yes sir, no sir, what can I do for you sir?" and if he heard otherwise he would deal with me when I got home. Having spent 25 years in policing, I can say that wasn't bad advice.

The whole process starts when you see the police vehicle's flashing red and blue lights in your rear view mirror. Depending on the officer and the situation, you may or may not also hear a siren.

If the officer chooses to use only the emergency lights, the Motor Vehicle Act requires:

the driver of a motor vehicle, when signalled or requested to stop by a peace officer who is readily identifiable as a peace officer, must immediately come to a safe stop.

The requirement to come to an immediate safe stop gives the driver a little bit of leeway to choose an appropriate place to pull over.

Turn on your right signal light to acknowledge the officer's request, find the nearest safe spot to pull out of traffic and stop.

If the officer chooses to use emergency lights and the siren, the Motor Vehicle Act requires:

On the immediate approach of an emergency vehicle giving an audible signal by a bell, siren or exhaust whistle, and showing a visible flashing red light, except when otherwise directed by a peace officer, a driver must yield the right of way, and immediately drive to a position parallel to and as close as possible to the nearest edge or curb of the roadway, clear of an intersection, and stop and remain in that position until the emergency vehicle has passed.

In this case there is no choice, brake safely, move to the side and stop right away.

Aside from domestic disputes, traffic stops are among the most dangerous situations for police. A wise driver will choose to be non-threatening:

  • Turn on your interior lights if it is dark.
  • Sit still and caution your passengers to do the same.
  • Keep your hands still and visible.
  • Follow the officer's instructions.
  • Be polite.
  • State your position but don't argue.

It's possible that the officer has a warning in mind and many people can successfully talk their way into a ticket at this point.

Conversation during the stop is up to you. All that the law requires is that you state your name and address and the name and address of the registered owner of the vehicle. However, some discussion may smooth the way without being incriminating.

If you do receive a traffic ticket, I have some advice on how to handle it as well.

Once the officer has finished, you are free to continue on your way. Make a safe start and rejoin traffic.



My driving dates back to 1975 (you do the math) and I’ve had two tickets the entire time and no accidents.  One was for speeding, (I was 18) not excess, but back when “over 10” was unacceptable.  And the other was making a left (I was 34) was not permitted, didn’t see the sign!  I didn’t argue or even present a defence on either, I did those infractions so I accepted my penalty.  Other then the routine process, I didn’t think anything negative until the cop handed me the ticket (on both occasions) and left me with the standard, snarky “and you have a nice day” ..... totally sarcastic!  

While I’m sure most of the encounters for cops is those drivers who give them a hard time but there was no need to give me the standard sarcastic, intentionally rude remark that is probably reserved for those “other” drivers.  After all theses years, not forgotten and still resonates to this day. 

Do they still do it?


Sometimes I don't think it matters what you say to conclude a traffic stop, the ticket recipient is never going to be happy and sees nothing but continuing persecution.

Not to say that the comment wasn't a snide one either, but there is always the possibility that it wasn't.


Back in the early 80's I was working as a cab driver, and these two ladies at the Park Royal Hotel in West Vancouver jumped in, wanting to get to the Bayshore Hotel over town. It was a quiet afternoon, hardly any traffic around. A quick zip across the bridge and causeway, and I'm eastbound on Georgia Street, approaching Cardero. Well you're not supposed to turn left there as it can hold up traffic when things are busy. So I'm looking around for any cops in the vicinity (didn't see any, or I would have made a right turn into the parking lot on the southwest corner and gotten myself northbound on Cardero that way; takes longer, a bit bumpy too) so as I knew I wasn't going to affect anybody I made the illegal left turn.

Dammit, suddenly there's a quick flash of blue and red lights in my mirrors. Foolishly, I had failed to notice that the big white van stopped at the light on Cardero was a Batmobile (one of those mobile blood alcohol testing vehicles they used to use) even though it should have been obvious to me.

So I pull up at the front of the Bayshore and get paid the fare including a tip (efficient service, you see) and then hop out of the car to talk to the cop. He can hardly keep a straight face. "You didn't see me, did you?" he asked, grinning hugely. "No", I said, "and I was looking for cop cars before I made the turn!"

So he hands me the ticket for the illegal left turn, and at that moment another couple approach my cab, asking if I could get them to North Vancouver. I advised them that I was out of my jurisdiction for picking up flagged fares, wasn't allowed to do so, and the cop would ticket me if I loaded them. To my surprise and delight, his response was "I'm not with the Taxi Unit, go ahead!" All in all, interacting with that cop was an entirely amiable experience and I reckon we probably both had a nice day.

I've had one or two encounters with the police over the years, and I don't think it's right to generalize. Mostly they're polite and professional, and sometimes show great discretion. Which is not to say that there aren't some absolute dickheads in uniform who should never have been put in a position of authority. I've met some of these types too - and gotten the best of them in court on occasion.

But police officers are just people, and from my experiences I've nothing but respect for them, and the job they do. It can't be easy.

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