The biggest threat to your civil rights is simply not being aware of them in the first place. Unless you know your rights, it’s difficult to assert them with confidence during a traffic stop — and you can’t expect the police to guide you!
With that in mind, here are the most important rights you need to assert during a traffic stop:
1. Decline to provide answers to irrelevant questions
The police are trained to ask open-ended questions in the hopes that suspects will give up information that might support an intrusive search. Do not fall for this tactic.
Turn over your license and registration without comment. Politely decline to provide answers to questions like, “Where are you coming from?” or “Where are you going?” Those questions are designed to elicit statements like, “I’m heading home from dinner.” The officer can then use that information as a way to ask questions about what you may have to drink while you were at the restaurant in order to justify a Breathalyzer test.
2. Never consent to a search of your vehicle
When an officer says, “Do you mind if I look around your vehicle?” most people are too intimidated to say no — but it is your absolute right to do so. Unless the officer has your permission, he or she needs a warrant to search your car.
The reality is that you do not know what an officer might use to justify a more intrusive action. For example, if an officer spots powdered sugar from your breakfast doughnut on the floor of your car and mistakes it for cocaine, you could suddenly be subjected to drug testing! Do not surrender your right against an unreasonable or unjustified search under any circumstance.
3. Use the camera on your phone to film the stop
It is your legal right to film a traffic stop. While most patrol cars are now equipped with dash cams, there’s no guarantee that the dash cam is able to catch all of the interactions between you and the officer. Take care not to hinder the officer in any way, but turn on your camera for your own protection. If your rights are violated, that may be an important record later.
Many drunk or drugged driving arrests could be avoided if all drivers asserted their rights during traffic stops in a calm and determined manner.