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What are my rights during a police traffic stop?

When you are on the road and see the flashing lights behind you, your heart might stop. Even once you pull over, you’re thinking about what will happen next. With multiple cases of police brutality after traffic stops or during arrests in recent years, you may be concerned for your welfare. You also likely are wondering what your rights are at a police traffic stop.

What to do during a traffic stop

The first thing any driver or passenger should do during a police traffic stop is to stay calm and treat the officer with respect. Not escalating the situation is important in avoiding arrest and staying safe.

Second, you should know that if police suspect you of a crime, you have the right to remain silent. You need to verbally communicate to police that you are exercising that right as soon as police talk with you. You also have the right:

  • To refuse consent for a search of your car
  • To leave if you are not under arrest
  • To have an attorney if you are arrested

Who is eligible for these rights?

Anyone in the United States is eligible for these Constitutional rights. You do not need to be a U.S. citizen or have a valid visa in order for these rights to apply.

What else you should know

As of July 1, Virginia law requires police officers to record racial information of drivers who they stop. Officers first will consult a driver’s license for this information. Then, they may ask drivers what racial and ethnic group they belong to. However, drivers don’t have to provide that information. Regardless, officer still must record something. The goal of the new law is to stop officers from biased-based profiling while performing their jobs.

Understanding your rights and what to expect when police stop you can help you avoid an unnecessary arrest. Staying calm also will provide you the best chance to find out the reason for the stop and if you need to reach out to an attorney right away.

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