I've given you advice on how to fight tickets before, but the best defense is one I haven't actually mentioned yet: avoiding getting tickets in the first place.
I know, I know – you can't always control whether you get pulled over or not. Things happen, and sometimes tickets are inevitable. But you might be surprised at how much you can control, and how your behavior can make the difference between fighting a fine and getting off with a warning.
Keeping a cool head
Getting pulled over is a nerve-wracking experience. Police are invested with a lot of power, which can be intimidating for regular people like us. That's normal; never fault yourself for feeling that way.
However, none of the advice that I'm about to give you will be useful unless you're able to overcome these nerves and get control of yourself. When you're in control of yourself, you have the chance to stay in control of the situation as it unfolds.
So, when you see those flashing lights in your mirror, here's what you do: Start taking deep breaths. Slow. Down. Your. Thinking. Breathe. Be calm.
Try not to imagine negative outcomes. It's entirely possible that this situation will be easily resolved. As you'll soon see, there are a lot of things you can do to help it go smoothly.
“Do you know why I pulled you over?”
Like I said, cops are intimidating. When they're staring right at you, it can be tempting to babble and try to say whatever you think they want to hear.
Be careful, though; don't let yourself get tricked into admitting fault. It's common for police to ask if you know why they stopped you. Even if you can hazard a guess, the answer is actually no – you don't know, and you're under no obligation to read their minds. The answer may well be different than what you assume.
After all, police pull people over for tons of reasons:
- Maybe you were doing something dangerous
- Maybe there's something wrong with your car (like a brake light being burnt out)
- It's also possible you or your vehicle matched the description of someone the police are currently looking for
- You may seem out of place or otherwise suspicious
- Maybe the office in question has some other concern completely unrelated to you in any way
The truth is that an officer can easily find justification for pulling just about anyone over, so don't assume it's something you did unless they tell you so explicitly. Don't give them the opportunity to use your words against you; let them do their jobs and make their own assertions without your help.
Swallow your pride
In fact, don't say anything more than is required. When our adrenaline is pumping, we all turn into chatterboxes, but staying quiet is the safest thing you can do.
I'll go further here and point out some particular don'ts:
- Don't argue, quoting constitutional law and standing up for your rights like the kind of personalities you might see on YouTube.
- Don't be disrespectful just to assert yourself and prove you're not cowed.
Remember, most traffic tickets are given at the officer's discretion. You don't have to love it, but that's the reality you're dealing with. Whether or not you're in the right, you'll be better off if you can turn the temperature down.
If you want to protest or complain about unfair treatment, do it after the interaction, not during. While most police officers aren't so egocentric that they'll go overboard and give you a huge fine just because you opened your mouth, it's not worth the risk.
A little sympathy goes a long way
Just because you can't talk doesn't mean that you can't make a human connection. Many people are resentful of being pulled over, so police officers appreciate it when you demonstrate patience and understanding instead. After all, they're really just doing their jobs. Try not to take it personally.
Consider, too, that the officer approaching your car doesn't know who you are. You might just be a normal, well-meaning civilian on the way to work, but you may also be dangerous or unstable. There's no way for them to know.
What can you do to alleviate that?
- You can show the officer that you don't intend to flee when they start approaching the car. If the weather is ok, consider turning your car off and rolling your window down. I know one guy who actually placed his keys on his roof! While the gesture was extreme, it meant a lot to the cop that pulled him over.
- Do the officer a favor and keep your hands on the steering wheel so they don't have to worry that you're reaching for a weapon.
- Wait until they request it to get out your license and registration, and even then, move slowly and communicate what you're doing: “I'm going to get my license out of my back pocket.” I know it sounds like overkill, but there's a good chance the officer will be thinking, “Wow, this person gets it! They know what we go through, and they're trying to make my job a little easier.”
Additionally, don't be too hard on them if they're not at their best. Maybe their shift started 10 hours ago and they're exhausted, or maybe they were just assaulted by the last person they interacted with. We all have bad days, right?
All this being said: If you feel like you were mistreated or received a ticket you believe to be unjustified, get in touch and I'll see if I can be of help.
BTW, my approach was more humanistic, but if you just want to know your rights, check out what the ACLU has to say.
Been pulled over and want to share your story? I'd love to read it! Share it in the comments below.