What to do when stopped by police

Every driver will likely be checked by police at some point in their driving experience.

There is a way to best present oneself and avoid alienating police officers.

With the exception of Supreme Court of Canada-supported roadside checks, police must have a reason to stop a driver. The most common reason is for a speeding offence but there are several situations where drivers are thankful for having been interrupted by police. A low tire, mechanical problem, fluid leak or other noticeable hazards, can cost a vehicle owner a big repair bill or severe trip delay.

Regardless of the reason for being stopped by police, it is best to be straightforward and polite. It is very stressful to be pulled over and become the centre of attention for all passing motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. Always have your driver’s licence, insurance and registration close at hand. The officer who is standing in the rain, sleet, snow or other inclement weather will appreciate it.

Pull well off the roadway to ensure the officer’s safety. Use your four-way flashers for additional safety. If there is no safe area in which to stop, proceed at a low speed to a safe place unless a siren or flashing lights of a police car direct otherwise. You will be told why you have been stopped. If not, ask!

Keep your hands visible. Turn on your interior light if it is dark.

The police officer will probably take your identification back to the cruiser for validation. Stay in your vehicle, unless directed otherwise. The police do not know you and must take the normal security precautions.

Memorize your driver’s licence. If you are unable to locate the licence, the number will identify you and put the police more at ease. It is still an offence to be without your licence, and contrary to popular opinion you do not have 24 hours to produce it.

In most cases the police are more concerned with the identification of a driver, than the offence committed. This is a legacy of the increased security awareness, as a result the 9/11 terror attacks.

There is no perfect driver. We all make mistakes. Honest mistakes are often forgiven by attending officers. It is easy to miss a speed sign, hidden by a large vehicle.

The officer has total discretion, when it comes to issuing a ticket. An admission of a traffic infraction does not always result in a ticket. An unblemished record is often looked upon kindly by attending police personnel.

Canadians are generally law-abiding and will voluntarily comply with most legal requirements. The police are looking for the small minority who do not comply — the criminal element. They are not looking for you!

They do not want to upset those very people who support them. Honest mistakes are forgiven much more often than not. The police have heard every lame excuse known to mankind. Simple apologies often go a long way to positively influence the police decision to issue a ticket or give a warning.

There are enforcement exceptions to every rule. The special provincial integrated enforcement units often employ a zero tolerance policy for all infractions. Drivers will not be given a warning. They will be issued a ticket in all circumstances. These units are usually looking for mechanical problems, seatbelt infractions, cellular phone indiscretions, drunk drivers and other infractions at blitz-style checkpoints.

Some officers issue tickets for all offences and let the courts settle the disputes, but they are unusual. Most police members are typical working people, well aware of the day-to-day pressures faced by drivers. They are inclined to forgive minor mistakes.

Your mother’s advice is probably the best advice in dealing with the police. Be polite and be honest.

Steve Wallace is a longtime teacher and owner of the Wallace Driving School in Victoria.

Photograph by: Doug Schmidt, The Windsor Star