Legally Weird - The FindLaw Legal Curiosities Blog

What Not to Do During a Traffic Stop

There's a fine line between what you can do during a traffic stop by police and what you should do. Sure, maybe you can flip off, insult, or swear at a police officer, but that doesn't mean you should.

What you should do is not pull up to a traffic stop to pick up your daughter, attempt to pull rank on some local cops as a Port Authority Commissioner, then drop the f-bomb on your way out. Otherwise you can quickly resign from that position.

"Shut the F*** Up"

Now-former commissioner Caren Turner was caught on a dashboard camera, berating Tenafly, New Jersey police officers apparently attempting to use her position to influence the proceedings. Turner's daughter was a passenger in another vehicle that was pulled over and ticketed for expired registration, and Turner was ostensibly on the scene to give her a ride home.

"You're just here as the ride, right?" one officer asks Turner, to which she responds, "No I'm not. I'm here as a concerned citizen and friend of the mayor and been in Tenafly for 20 years." Officers tried to explain that Turner didn't need to know the details of the traffic stop, and at one point referred to her as "miss." "No, don't call me miss," Turner snapped back. "I'm commissioner. Thank you."

Finally, when officers told her she could take the group away, Turner shouted, "You may not tell me when to take my child ... You may shut the f*** up and not tell me when I may take my kid and her friends, who are Ph.D. students from MIT and Yale. You may tell me nothing."

Dos and Don'ts

While Turner's antics may not have had a negative effect on the traffic stop, they did on her career. She resigned her commissioner position soon after the incident. But hers can still be a cautionary tale in what not to do during a traffic stop:

  • Don't Keep Driving: This may seem obvious, but you'll only make it worse by adding criminal charges;
  • Don't Get Out of the Vehicle: Unless the officer asks;
  • Don't Refuse Requests for Documents: Yes, you have a right to remain silent, but your Fifth Amendment rights don't extend to your license, registration, and insurance information;
  • Don't Tell on Yourself: Officers are trained to let you incriminate yourself by letting you admit to violations or admit that you were careless or negligent, so answer questions like "do you know why I stopped you" with "no," and "do you know how fast you were going" with "yes";
  • Don't Be Belligerent: No, you're under no legal obligation to be polite to police officers, but it can't hurt.

Even if it doesn't get you out of a ticket, it may mean you're not out of a job, at least.

Related Resources: