Keeping Safe during a Traffic Stop
Traffic stops are among the most dangerous moments for both police and motorists. I was reminded of this today when reading about a dedicated public servant who was killed in the line of duty by an 18-wheeler during a routine inspection stop of another semi.
I have personally seen or been involved with far too many situations in which a person, lawfully pulled over on the side of a highway for a traffic stop, a fender bender, or mechanical problems, has been hit at highway speeds by another vehicle. The results are never minor or inconsequential. I just wanted to take a minute and review a few safety steps that can minimize your risk and the risk to law enforcement should you be pulled over or stranded on the side of a highway.
First, if possible, put on your hazard lights, slow down, and exit the highway before coming to a stop. If you are stranded or cannot pull onto a side road, pull your vehicle as far off the road as you are able, with hazard lights engaged.
Roll down your window and keep your hands where the officer can see them. If you have a license to carry a handgun, immediately inform the officer when you are pulled over. The better you can show the officer that you are not a threat, the more likely the experience is not to be an ugly one.
If the officer asks to search the vehicle, you do not have to—and normally should not—agree to the search. Most of the time, especially if you have done nothing wrong, the officer will not have a valid reason to search. Remember, both you and that officer are at risk for as long as you are on the highway shoulder, so the sooner you get on your way, the better.
If you are stranded on the road due to a fender bender or mechanical issue, do all you can to be seen. Hazard lights are a must. If you are in a dangerous place, move away from the vehicle to a place of safety and seek professional assistance. A police officer or a tow truck, with its lighting and reflector tape, is much less likely to be involved in a follow-on wreck.
Sometimes, though, even when you have taken every precaution—as this young officer did in the story above—the unthinkable still happens. I would be thrilled if I never saw or heard of another wreck like this in my life, but I know I will see more.
When it does, we at the McCraw Law Group will be ready to help. We have represented both first responders and folks who were stranded when these follow-on wrecks occurred, and we are prepared to help you or your family as well.