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Traffic stops are stressful
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There are many reasons why the police stop motorists. Each such stop is uncomfortable for the motorist and potentially dangerous for the police officer. Besides routine traffic violations, a motorist may be stopped for matching the description of a wanted person or if the vehicle is the subject of a BOL (be on the lookout). A vehicle that has equipment problems, like cracked glass, bald tires, or lights not functioning, or that has illegal equipment add-ons, is also subject to being stopped. Expired registration, outstanding warrants or unpaid traffic citations give police cause to effect traffic stops and they may even do so when a motorist appears to be under duress or in need of assistance. The list of lawful reasons the police can stop a motorist is lengthy.

Police officers find the task of stopping motorists a bit stressful, as each such stop brings with it the chance of being shot, physically attacked or the possibility of being struck by another motorist. More than 50 percent of all officers killed in the line of duty lost their lives in traffic stop situations. It is no wonder that the officers are prone to being serious and focused on the task at hand. Yet, they are true professionals with only rare exception. They are not in the business of punishing you or making you feel uncomfortable.

Regardless of the reason(s) for the stop, police officers are expected to be professional and courteous. They also train in officer safety tactics to avoid the many hazards they face during "routine" traffic stops. This training may, from the motorist's perspective, translate to the officer appearing as someone who is "all business" and not particularly friendly. I expect officers to be courteous and professional with motorists who have been stopped. While the officers strive to do so, it is often times very difficult to rise to the level of having a "friendly" interaction with a motorist who is irritated, hostile or angry. Nevertheless, the officer is always concerned about safety - yours and theirs.

When an officer activates his emergency equipment, the motorist is required by law to pull over to a safe location on the right side of the roadway. Sometimes the officer will communicate through the loudspeaker with instructions of where to stop. If it is dark, your car will be illuminated with a bright spotlight. In most instances, a second "cover" officer will arrive for additional safety and security. The second officer keeps an eye on the vehicle that has been stopped, as well as other traffic and pedestrians in the area. The second officer helps keep things safe for both the initial officer and the motorist who has been stopped.

A motorist detained during a traffic stop should remain in the car with hands in plain view. It is important to follow the officer's instructions. Avoid sudden movements and do not reach for anything, including your license, until the officer has asked you to do so.

The first priority of the officer is to make sure that the motorist or passenger(s) pose no threat. The next step will be to establish the motorist's identity, followed by determining vehicle ownership and current registration. The officer will also verify that the motorist has current insurance by inspecting the appropriate insurance documents. Normally, you will not be told the reason for the stop until those requirements have been fulfilled. You should always have your driver's license with you when driving, since without it, the stop will take much longer and you stand a good chance of being cited for not having a valid license in possession. If you are receiving a citation, state law requires that you sign it. Failure to do so will result in a trip to jail. The signature is not an admission of guilt; it is merely a promise to appear in court.

Motorists who feel they have been mistreated by the police can contact the on-duty watch commander to discuss the incident and, if necessary, to file a formal complaint. Also, only a judge can adjudicate a citation. The officer's supervisors, including the chief of police, cannot dismiss a "moving" traffic citation. Therefore, the supervisor or watch commander can discuss the officer's conduct, but they will not engage in a debate about the validity of the citation. That is a function left exclusively to the courts.

Because few people are immune from making driving mistakes, either intentionally or inadvertently, just about everyone gets stopped by the police one time or another during their driving career. By following the tips and advice in this article, you can make the experience a bit less traumatic for yourself and less difficult for the officer. I wish you all the safest of motoring experiences.