Someone once made the suggestion this would be an interesting topic for a web page. The more we thought about it, the more we agreed.
There are so many different types of traffic stops and procedural considerations, that it would be much too lengthy for an in-depth discussion. So, we’ll try to cover the basics.
First off, regardless of what you hear anyone say, no traffic stop is "routine." (That’s a cliché that police officers don't like.) For many reasons, traffic stops can be extremely dangerous. Not only does the officer have to think about the actions and behavior of the occupant(s) within the vehicle, he/she must also be cognizant of the other vehicles driving past on the roadway. The next time you see someone pulled over, take notice of how the squad car is probably slightly left of the stopped vehicle. This is done intentionally to give the officer a safety "aisle" from passing vehicles.
As far as the violator is concerned, let’s take it from the point when you first realize that you are being pulled over. Illinois law requires that upon the approach of "a police vehicle properly and lawfully making use of an audible or visual signal," you must "immediately drive to a position parallel to, and as close as possible to, the right-hand edge or curb of the highway clear of any intersection." Okay, that’s enough of the legalese. Basically, you should safely pull over to the right as soon as possible. Most police officers will understand if you slowly drive a short distance to pull into a driveway, parking lot, side street, etc. However, if you can’t - fine. Remember that a police officer will probably wait for the best (and safest) location before activating the lights to get you to pull over in the first place.
Once you have stopped your vehicle, stay in it during the entire stop, unless the officer orders you to exit it. Staying in the vehicle is safer for both of you. Turn off your stereo and any other device that might hinder your communication with the officer. Turn the interior light on if it's dark and put your hand on the steering wheel. Don’t be surprised if the officer stays behind your driver’s window a bit when talking to you. That is a safety tactic. Also, don’t be surprised if another squad/officer shows up. This is only to assure the officer’s safety, especially if there is more than one person in the stopped vehicle.
Police officers are trained to watch for unusual movements within the vehicle, as well as the driver’s hands. So don’t be taken aback if the officer asks you to keep your hands in the open where they can be seen. Do not make any movement that might be interpreted by the officer as you hiding or searching for something. Communicate your actions in advance by telling the officer what you will be doing before you move. Yea, we’ve heard it before: "But this is Vernon Hills, it can’t be dangerous here." The sad fact is that police officers from even the smallest of towns have been killed during the commission of a traffic stop. Remember, the officer doesn’t know anything about you, your past or your intentions. He/she is just trying to keep everyone safe - you included.
If the charge or ticket is not clear, ask the officer for an explanation in a respectful manner. Answer the officer’s questions and ask your own questions in a calm and courteous manner. Remember, if you disagree with the ticket, you will have an opportunity to go to court. The ticket aside, if you believe that the officer acted irresponsibly or inappropriately, you should most certainly call the agency and ask to speak with a shift supervisor.
Oh, and one more thing, if we may. If you have ever had a bad experience with a police officer, please don’t hold it against the next officer who stops you. Remember, we’re all different and sometimes we have bad days too. That’s not an excuse for an officer’s conduct, just a possible explanation.
(Some of the above information was supplied by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.)
Questions? Send us an e-mail.