Stopped by the Police - What do I do Now?

Police VehicleWe live in a wonderful country where violence is still something relatively rare. If we are stopped by the police we tend not to worry and dig out our driver's license and vehicle registration wherever it might be in the vehicle. Some people even get out and walk back to the police car to see what is going on. These actions are meant to be polite and save time but today are not the right thing to do.

The police perspective is a difficult one. Officers realize that people mean well, and that almost always these actions are not threatening. On the other hand, police stop people every day in British Columbia that have significant criminal records and may present a very real threat. These circumstances are not known in advance and each vehicle stop must be approached with care to avoid violence, but not upset those who are honest, well meaning people.

You can play a big part in making every vehicle stop a safe experience. Here are some suggestions:

  • Stop promptly and instruct everyone in your vehicle to sit still and be quiet.
  • Keep your hands in clear view.
  • If it is dark, turn on your interior light.
  • Wait for the officer to approach and explain why you have been stopped, then follow his requests.
  • Stay in your vehicle and continue to be still and quiet until the stop is concluded.

In short, don't do anything that might be mistaken as a possible threat.

In general, you can expect the officer to approach carefully, possibly pausing to examine the interior of the vehicle from the area of the rear bumper. Once comfortable that there is no threat, they will approach the driver's window, explain why you have been stopped and ask for your driver's licence and vehicle documents.

Some officers may choose to make a right side approach instead. It is dangerous to stand on the traffic side of your vehicle even when the police vehicle is offset to the left behind.

 

You may be asked to move your vehicle to a place off of the highway to safely conclude the interaction.

If the officer asks, the driver is required to correctly state their name and address. A passenger must also correctly identify the driver if the officer requests it.

The officer will return to their patrol vehicle and run a check on you and your license. If they have decided to write a written warning or traffic ticket it will be completed now. This may take a few minutes so please be patient.

Don't be tempted to walk back and ask what is taking so long if you are in a hurry. This will likely extend the length of the stop as the officer will stop what they are doing, exit the vehicle and meet you face to face.

I stopped a vehicle in a rural area one night and as soon as it had pulled over, both front doors opened, two males stepped out and began to approach. They ignored my commands to stop and a pistol pointed at them. Thank goodness the incident ended happily for all of us but this is an invitation to be shot, good intentions or not.

If you receive a traffic ticket, I've written a Q&A article on How to Deal With a Traffic Ticket to help you decide what to do. This is not the time and place to argue your point, after all, being stopped at the roadside can be dangerous for you too.

Be careful pulling back into traffic. Many drivers still don't properly slow down and move over!

If your first reaction is that this column sounds ridiculous, I would like to agree with you, but times are changing. The problem today is that officers cannot immediately determine who is and isn't a threat, and for their own safety must consider all the potentials and be prepared to deal with them.

Comments

Passenger Duty

I read this with interest, especially the bit about a passenger duty to id the driver after an offence or accident.

What offence are they committing if they don’t? Presumably if the driver is present it’s on them to if themselves. Plus if it’s after the event and the driver has gone. What evidence would you ever have that a passenger was there, unless they are trapped in the car.

How can you prove they aren’t giving you the id of the driver if they may not know it.

The act reads more like it is the liability of the driver or registered owner (who should know who is driving) not a passenger.

Charging the Passenger

The offence a passenger faces if they refuse or fail to properly identify the driver when required to is a $109 fine under section 84(2) MVA.

When I thought that the driver was playing games with me I would ask them to move to the rear of the police vehicle with me and do what I could to identify them by asking questions. I would ask them to remain where they were and then went to the passenger and asked them about the driver. If the answers didn't mesh, I knew that I had to work harder.

A few times I ended up charging both the driver and the passenger for violating these requirements.

The Criminal Code offence of obstructing a peace officer could be applied in some circumstances too. The ticket involved less difficulty.

The registered owner has a duty that is the same as the passenger's.

Motorcycles

I was thinking about the whole problem of a driver reaching over to the glovebox for the insurance info, and what a challenge that has to be in terms of the worry that what might come out instead is a weapon. Difficult for both parties to communicate well enough to keep everyone’s hair on.

So anyways, once I had a read through, it occurred to me that there’s another group who pose a different challenge. A lot of us on motorcycles carry our documents under the saddle, meaning we’re going to have to get off and walk around a bit to dig things out.

You might want to expand a bit on the protocol for riders. Or just send along a tip or two to me, and I’ll share it with the other instructors and our students.

Answer

For me, if you are wearing a full face helmet or have a visor that is tinted darkly, I always appreciated it when the rider removed it.

If there was a passenger, it was good if the passenger got off, moved to the front of the bike and stood there. It made it much easier to keep track of everyone.

In any case, it never hurts to explain where your documents are and ask if the officer is OK with getting them. No surprises are good!

Big Dogs

Great article! What are your thoughts when being pulled over with a large dog... thanks!

Answer

I wonder that I forgot this as it was not uncommon to have to approach a pickup truck with a dog in the back that was only restrained by the sides of the box. Owners rarely had the dog leashed. Many were friendly and only interested in seeing who you were and getting a pat, but some were aggressive and would threaten.

I would prepare to defend myself and step back, often resulting in the driver going nuts too.

At that point I would simply stand at the front of my police vehicle and instruct the driver to secure the dog and bring what I needed to me. Once I had it, I would instruct them to return to the driver's seat and remain there until I instructed them again. Usually it was to come back and get their copy of the ticket.

My Experience

I was disheartened to read the news today about the dog incident in Prince Rupert. I too have a Pittbull Terrier and you always see these terrible stories gone wrong. I was pulled over once just random ( that’s what officer said lol) and I had my dog and I started to panic only because of what could happen to her, then she picks up on that.... I yelled out I have a dog I have Dog and held onto her with my right arm. It went okay but had I not calmed down she has that instinct to protect us.. The officer was great by the way.

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