Let’s face it, seeing flashing blue lights in your rearview mirror is never fun. But imagine being the police officer who has to walk up to a stranger’s car, without knowing what the driver has inside their vehicle.

With shootings involving officers and drivers, routine traffic stops have become nerve-wracking and dangerous for both parties involved in the situation.

The issue has raised a number of questions on what the proper etiquette is when you’re being pulled over.

“‘Where do I put my hands? What if I’m not in a safe spot? Should I get my license and registration out immediately?’ These are questions that drivers ask themselves now because of the heightened tensions between police and the public,” says Thomas Bumgardner, an attorney with the Law Office of Thomas D. Bumgardner, PLLC. “In fact, the North Carolina General Assembly had the Division of Motor Vehicles revise its guidelines on traffic stops in order to answer those questions and to prevent any misunderstandings.”

The suggested guidelines were added to the NCDMV handbook in the first half of 2018, which also helps high school students learn how to handle traffic stops.

What do I do first when I’m getting pulled over?

If you are on a two-lane highway, you should pull off to the right side of the road. But if you’re on a highway with two or more lanes heading in the same direction, you should pull your car over to the safest shoulder of the road or interstate where both of your vehicles can fit.

Once you’ve pulled your car over, put it in park, activate your vehicle’s emergency or hazard lights and preferably turn your vehicle off. If it’s at night, turn on your car’s interior lights.

Where do I put my hands?

It’s very important that you keep your hands on the top of the steering wheel. This is so the officer can see your hands while he or she is approaching the vehicle.

Do not start rummaging around your car, looking for your license and registration, because the officer could assume you are reaching for a gun and the situation could escalate.

If you have a passenger in the car, that person should put their hands in their lap or on their knees.

What do I do when the officer approaches my vehicle?

The Law Office of Thomas D. Bumgardner in Charlotte explains that you should have your hands on the steering wheel when a police officer approaches your vehicle in North Carolina.

Once the officer gets to your vehicle, roll down the window, make sure your radio is off and you’re not talking on your cell phone.

The officer could ask to see your license, registration and proof of insurance. This is when you can reach into your glove box, center console or bag for the proper identification.

It’s important to note that it is North Carolina law to identify yourself and hand over your license and registration, but once you have done that, you’re not obligated to answer any more questions. You have the right to remain silent.

Also, do not exit the vehicle unless you are instructed to do so by the officer.

What if I’m not in a safe spot to pull over?

Officers will understand if you want to pull over to a safe or well-lit area.

You should turn on your emergency flasher signals and slow down in order to let the officer know that you plan to pull over but want to do so in a safer area. But make sure it’s nearby. You shouldn’t drive several miles looking for a safe spot.

Another thing to remember when getting pulled over… be polite to the officer! Have you ever heard of a driver getting a warning because they were mean and rude to the police officer? No, we didn’t think so.

If you do get pulled over and are issued a citation that you believe is not warranted, the Law Office of Thomas D. Bumgardner, PLLC can help you fight it. We have a high success rate of handling a number of different types of traffic citations. Call us at 704-887-4981 to schedule a free consultation.