What to do when pulled over by the police in the UK
- Pull over when it is safe to do so
- Stay inside your car, roll down the window and turn on the inside light
- Be polite
- Be mindful of impostors and don't be scared to play it safe
- Take a moment to calm down before continuing on your way.
We haven’t reached the position that American motorists face, where they are advised to keep their hands in plain sight to avoid being shot, but this checklist should make your interaction with a traffic police officer more pleasant and less problematic than it might otherwise be.
1. Pull over when it is safe
If a police car pulls up behind you with their blue lights flashing, you should pull over when it is safe to do so. Do not panic and slam your brakes on; assess the situation.
The police officers inside the patrol car will make it clear if they want you to pull over and stop, as opposed to just letting them get past you. This will generally be done using their car’s indicators or by pointing to the side of the road.
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2. Stay inside your car
After you have pulled over it might be tempting to get out of your car but it is better if you stay sitting inside it.
If you stay where you are and turn your engine off then the police officer knows that you are going to comply and not suddenly make a run for it.
If you also turn on your inside light and roll down your window then he/she also knows that you aren’t trying to hide a weapon or evidence. Yes, I know you are the very embodiment of respectability and a valued pillar of society but he doesn’t, not yet anyway.
Traffic stops are the second most dangerous situation that a police officer has to deal with on a regular basis, so he/she will be on their guard. (Domestic incidents are the most dangerous, in case you were wondering.)
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3. Be polite
Police officers are human. If you are rude and aggressive, then your experience is likely to be a very different one than if you are polite and respectful. Remember, the traffic stop might not mean trouble; you might have been pulled over simply to be told that a brake light bulb has blown.
Some might advise you to keep your answers short to avoid incriminating yourself but I’d rather be open and honest and explain, apologising if necessary. No one likes unnecessary work, and most police officers would rather let you off with a warning than write a ticket out.
If you are cautioned then it is likely that you are about to be issued with a ticket or prosecuted, at which point it might be better to say nothing as his/her mind is probably made up. The place to argue your side is in court, not at the side of the road. Arguing with the police rarely improves a bad situation.
If they ask for your name and address you should give it, as they may arrest you otherwise if they suspect that you have committed an offence.
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4. If you are unsure
The police do use unmarked vehicles, although they must be wearing full uniform when they pull you over. Even so, you might sometimes have doubts as to whether the car is a genuine police car.
The best advice is to slow down but continue on your way. You could consider putting your hazard warning lights or indicators on to let them know that you’ve seen them and aren’t simply racing away from the scene to avoid them.
If you have a passenger you could ask them to phone the police and tell them what is happening, but if you are alone you should pull into the first petrol station you see. Petrol stations are well lit and they have CCTV cameras, which will deter imposters.
When you have stopped, do not open your window. Ask to see their warrant card before you engage with them further. If you explain your nervousness, then they will understand.
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5. Leaving the scene
Even seasoned motorists will be a bit shaky after a traffic stop, which is an unavoidable consequence of all that adrenaline that is coursing through your bloodstream. So take your time when pulling away, only doing so when you are calm and there is a safe gap in the traffic to enable you to do so.
Further advice on police powers to stop motorists can be found at gov.uk.
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