PFA Tips: What to Do During a Traffic Stop
By Shelly McLaughlin, Program Director, Pathfinders for Autism
EVERYONE feels anxiety when they see that police car light up behind them. You begin to wonder, “Am I in trouble?” “What did I do wrong?” It can make slowing down your brain difficult in that moment and think about what you need to do. So it’s time to start thinking about what you should do BEFORE you get pulled over. The goal is to have a safe interaction during a traffic stop.
Pull over slowly
As soon as you see the police lights behind you, indicate you are pulling over with your turn signal. Then slowly pull over to a safe spot on the side of the road.
Stay in your car
Do not get out of your car, even if it seems to be taking awhile for the officer to approach you. He may be researching your license plate number to ensure your car is not listed as stolen. Only get out of your car if the officer specifically asks you to.
Roll down your window
Roll down your window at least far enough so that the officer may talk to you. Do not be surprised if the officer comes to the passenger side of the car. He might do this for his own safety from oncoming cars.
Keep your hands on the steering wheel
It is critical that you leave your hands in plain view on the steering wheel. A police officer could easily think you might be trying to reach for or be holding a weapon if he cannot see your hands. Wait for him to ask for your ID or other documents before you look for your wallet or open the glove box.
Disclose your autism diagnosis
This step is your choice to do so. However, your disclosure is helpful for the officer to know. With that information he will be less likely to misinterpret some characteristics you may display for acts of noncompliance. For instance, if you have difficulty looking at someone’s eyes when you speak to them. An officer may mistakenly think that you are trying to hide that you have been drinking. Or if you have sensory issues, and he understands that, he might be more willing to turn off his front lights and sirens.
Be polite to the officer and follow his instructions.
Provide documents when asked
In almost every case, the officer will ask you to present your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and possibly certificate of car insurance. He will take your documents back to his car.
Wait in the car for the officer to return
The officer will return your documents when he is finished. He could be in his car for several minutes. It is important that you wait in your car patiently. He will provide instruction for what to do next.
Stay parked until the officer tells you it is ok to leave
Do not pull away until the officer tells you it is ok to go. Make sure you wait until he is safely back at his car, then slowly pull back onto the road when it is safe to do so.
PFA Tips: How to Interact with Police
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