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By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
It’s more likely than it’s probably ever been that you’ll get pulled over by a cop at some point in the near future.
Not only are there more penny-ante laws and violations on the books than ever, state and local governments are dealing with major cash flow problems, just like the rest of us. They can’t raise taxes directly; that would spark a revolt of the masses at this point. But they can turn loose the cops — whose ticket books and radar guns serve as a very effective means of indirect taxation.
So, first, be on the alert.
Second, be prepared. Do you know how to handle yourself during a traffic stop? How you behave can be the key factor that determines whether you can successfully beat the ticket later on — or maybe (if you’re really lucky) get off with a warning right now.
* Pull over the right way.
Yes, there is a definite right way to pull over during a traffic stop.
When the cop turns on his lights, you should immediately slow the vehicle and put your turn signal on. Then pull off the road — to a shoulder or side street — as quickly as possible. Do not stop in the middle of the road. The idea is to park your car so it’s out of the way of traffic — which makes the stop safer for the cop. Which makes him happy. Which is good policy, because aggravating the cop — or conveying the impression that you’re an addled idiot — will not help you.
Next, put the car in Park, shut down the engine, turn on the hazard blinkers and turn on the interior light (if it’s dark outside). Put both hands on the top of the steering wheel and sit quietly. Do not root around for stuff.
Again, the idea here is to make the cop feel safe by conveying the impression that you’re an Honest Joe or Jane — and not some thug.
Important: If you have a concealed handgun permit, keep it with your driver’s license (a paper clip works well). Do not reach for or produce your weapon.
When the cop comes to your window, hand him your license and your permit and tell him, “Officer, I have a concealed carry permit.” If you are carrying a weapon or have one in the vehicle, tell him exactly where it is but do not reach for it.
Usually, cops relax around CWP holders because CWP holders are by definition not criminals (having undergone state and federal background checks) and rarely cause trouble. But it’s very important to let the cop know you have the CWP before he discovers you have a gun on you.
* Be polite and cooperative but not talkative.
The cop is not your friend. Remember this. He is there to give you a ticket and anything you say can and will be used against you in court.
The cop is taking notes and trained to ask you leading and entrapping questions, such as “Do you know how fast you were going”? To which, you should reply along the lines of “I’m sure you have an opinion, officer.” Never incriminate yourself — unless you feel you did do something wrong and want to pay the fine. It’s best to keep the conversation as short, sweet — and forgettable — as possible.
If you are confrontational or sarcastic, not only will the cop remember you, he is much more motivated to see you’re convicted. If, on the other hand, you’re remembered as a nice, polite, cooperative person, the cop is more likely to not object come court time when the judge considers a reduced charge or “driving school” to nix the ticket.
* Take notes yourself.
If you are going to contest the ticket, you should be prepared to present facts in court — or have facts to give your attorney.
For example, was the speed limit sign clearly posted? If it was obscured by a leafy tree, and you can show this in court (keeping a small disposable camera with you in the car for this purpose is a smart idea) that is an objective fact that may just get you out of the ticket.
You want to record and keep track of any fact that either puts into question the offense you’ve been charged with or which serves as what they call in legal lingo a mitigating circumstance — such as the fact that you were rushing your pregnant wife to the emergency room.
At court, unless you have a driving record peppered with previous violations, you can almost always get the judge/commonwealth’s attorney to agree to a lesser charge, or even a reduced charge — or to drop the moving violation in return for agreeing to attend one of those day-long DMV driving schools many states offer.
The main thing they want is your money; the main thing you want to avoid is “points” on your driver’s record, because they can lead to hiked insurance costs for several years vs. the one-time hit of a fine.