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How To Survive A Traffic Stop When You’re Armed by Derek Smith

No one likes a traffic stop, Not even cops. Next, to domestic disputes, this is probably the most dangerous thing police officers do every day. Every traffic stop is potentially deadly for the police officer. It’s not just the danger of gunfire or sudden assault that police officers face… more get killed by passing traffic than a run in with a driver.

You, as a responsibly armed citizen, need to understand that a police officer is already on alert even before arriving at your vehicle window. The officer is on the lookout for a whole host of dangers and does not know your intentions during this interaction.

I have had my fair share of traffic stops. Even today, after years as a law enforcement officer myself, I still stiffen and get a little scared when an officer stops me. I have had some harsh treatment until the officer learned that I had a gun and badge too. Then things calmed down a bit.

Now that I am a private citizen with authority to carry a gun, I find myself even more afraid when an officer stops me. I am a 6-foot, 260-pound black guy carrying a weapon and I don’t want a nervous or overzealous cop to shoot me before I have the time to identify myself and show him my permit. We know this has happened in the past.

So, in this article, I want to share with you a few things you should do if you are stopped by the police, ESPECIALLY if you are carrying. These things will ensure your traffic stop ends safely for everyone involved.

I know how the officer feels when he stops you and what is going through his head. Officer safety is the main thing on his mind. Cops don’t know what to expect, so believe me when I tell you they are expecting the worse until you give them a reason not to. Even if you put them at ease, cops realize that good stops can easily and quickly turn bad, so they are still on edge. There is no such thing as a routine traffic stop.

Keep in mind that the officer has no idea who you are when he stops you. All he knows is your driving history that’s in the computer. Your actions will dictate how the officer will respond. The good ones will not approach you thinking you are a sociopath, but are aware that you could end up being one.

It’s simple, the easier you make his stop, the easier it’s going to be for you. With this in mind, here are five things I recommend you do to ensure your traffic stop ends without incident.

1. Pull over when safe to do so and come to a complete stop:

I have seen many people just stop when an officer flashes his lights behind them. This can be unsafe for traffic, the officer and you. Instead, slow down, use your directional signal and when safe to do so, move as far to the side of the road as you can. If you think it is not safe and you want to drive a little further, don’t let the cop think you are running, engage your hazard lights and drive very slowly away from traffic to a place you believe to be safe. If the officer wants you to move to another place, he will let you know over the PA. Follow his instructions to the letter.

2. Don’t move:

Once you come to a stop, roll down your window, turn off the engine and then immediately put your hands on the top of the steering wheel where he can easily see them. Tell your front-seat passengers to put their hands’ palms down — fingers extended — on the dashboard. Tell you backseat passengers to do the same, with their hands on the seat in front of them.

3. Keep your mouth shut:

You might be upset about the stop and think there is no reason for it. However, no matter what is going on with you or how bad your day has been, don’t make any angry comments because the officer will immediately go on the defensive. Also, remember to tell your passengers to be quiet as well.

4. Wait for instructions:

I already told you not to move. Don’t start digging around for your license, registration or proof of insurance until the cop tells you to. They call this “furtive movement,” and it gives the cop a reason to draw his weapon and be ready for anything. Don’t move until he asks you to move.

5. Tell the officer you want to (and will) comply:

Look toward the officer and politely let him know you will cooperate. If it seems like you are trying to hide your face or eyes, you could put him on edge.

What happens next:

At this point, the officer will identify himself, briefly explain why he stopped you and ask you for your license and registration. Let him know that you need to reach for those items and specifically ask, “Is it OK for me to (reach where ever you need to reach)?”

When the officer tells you it’s OK to move, move s-l-o-w-l-y. If you decide to narrate your movements, don’t do it condescendingly, you might put him off.

Since this article is about being stopped when carrying your firearm if you live in a state that requires you to inform police officers that you have a concealed carry permit, do so at this time. I recommend that when you give him your license and THEN tell him that you have your personal weapon with you.

Follow his instructions to the letter, repeating them if you have to. Watch your tone because if the officer feels as though you are getting angry or agitated, he will definitely respond. If you are not required to announce that you have a concealed carry permit, some say it is often best not to do so. I disagree because if he happens to see it, he will probably draw down on you and be pissed that you did not tell him. I will leave that decision to you. I usually tell them.

The DON’T’s if you are stopped

Here are some things I recommend you NEVER do if stopped. These my save your life.

NEVER reach for anything while pulling over or while the officer is approaching your car. This will definitely put a cop on high alert.

NEVER argue. You will never win, and the side of the road is not where you plead your case. If you really feel like the ticket was given in error or the stop was made without just cause, take your grievance to court.

NEVER be rude. Yep, you pay the officer’s salary. Yep, he is a public servant. No, he doesn’t have anything better to do right now. However, your being rude and telling him these things will only make your traffic stop worse.

NEVER talk about your rights. Trust me, he knows your rights better than you do. Again, if you really feel your rights were violated, take it to court.

NEVER get out of the car unless he tells you to. Cops believe that if you are in the car, it’s going to be hard for you to assault him physically. Once you get out of the car, the danger of physical assault grows exponentially, causing his anxiety level to increase exponentially too.

Final thoughts:

I said at the beginning of this article that the cop doesn’t want to be on this traffic stop any more than you do. And he definitely doesn’t want anything to “go wrong” during the stop. The fact of the matter is that when a cop uses force, he does not determine the level of force to be used, your actions do. The more you resist, the more force the officer is going to use to get you under control.

I told you he does not know you from Adam, and he regularly deals with some of the worst people on the planet. He is trained to take control of any situation and he will. This means the officer will often be direct, and maybe even abrupt. Don’t let that cause you to escalate the situation.

Cops are not out to get you. They are just doing a very tough job, and YOU have the opportunity to make that job easier. Follow the tips I have laid out here, and you will have a much easier and more pleasant traffic stop.


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71 thoughts on “How To Survive A Traffic Stop When You’re Armed by Derek Smith”

  1. As well.when I have been pulled over.When I was asked for license and registration.I said my license was in my wallet,could I get it out.
    This worked out very well.

  2. Thank you for these instructions ,willingness to comply is always the best action and hands where the officer can see them is good advice at a traffic stop! i live in an open carry state and I have a concealed carry permit,however I have been reluctant to carry either way,concealed or open ! i have had military training in the handling of all types of weapons quite a long time ago and am very safety conscious but I know i would help in a situation where it is required.My question is how does an officer of the Law,responding to an armed robbery or an active shooter situation know to recognize me or any individual as helping when he or she arrives at the scene and I or someone else (A good guy with a gun) as a “Good Guy” and not part of the robbery ?

  3. Good article the police have my sympathies for all the shit they have to deal with- they’re humans too. Mutual respect ya know!

  4. This also carries over to traffic court if you decide to attend and argue a citation. Last time I was there I wore a blazer with a tie just out of respect for the court. The judge took one look at me, asked what I did for a living. I told him I was a high school science teacher and wresting coach. He dismissed the case on the spot citing my clean record up to that time. Treat people the way you would want to be treated.

  5. I appreciate your insights on self-preservation and not getting shot. A couple of things though.

    During traffic stops in Ohio these days before identifying the reasons for stops officers command “license and registration”. Not even the bait you with admitting guilt and jurisdiction question of old, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” No they go right to “license and registration”. Don’t even say please.

    “NEVER talk about your rights. Trust me, he knows your rights better than you do.” That’s laughable. Officers are trained to process. And too often that process is less than constitutional. Glorified food and meat processors who don’t even know when they should wash their hands. Quite frankly the last officer that shouted, “license and registration” got this response from me. “Officer am I under arrest or did I hurt somebody”. Most certainly I smiled and was cordial during the event. Without getting into details at the end of the stop he couldn’t get me to sign the ticket after he threaten to send me to jail. It was a hollow threat that if he had done so would have caused him far more problems.

    Anyway I did go to court. Scared the hell out of the first magistrate and it took 2 more magistrates before I allowed them to get me arraigned. And as I suspected with the stink I stirred up and the officer who promised “to tell the judge what I said” didn’t show up after my 5th court appearance well…my case was dismissed. For me it was just an exercise in verifying legal to illegal corruption in a court system regarding traffic tickets that doesn’t really know if the court is civil or criminal. And that my friend is hardly a constitutional court of due process.

    I doubt you know the answer to this question being a defender of the Constitution. “What are the documents or laws that grant or give people freedom/liberty in the good old uS of A?”

  6. My youngest son is now a sargent with the sheriffs dept. I’ve heard stories of traffic stops from hell! And thank you for the article! It was wonderful!! All stuff I know personally, but great information to rehash and for those just learning! My only question is, it was recommended to us that when the officer approaches vehicle, and self, we inform that we are permitted to carry and presently are carrying. Listen to what he tells you and go from there following his instructions. Is it preferable to wait UNTIL he asks for license and registration before telling them you’re carrying?

  7. Some thoughts from a retired truck driver who has encountered cops all across the nation.
    When the lights come on behind you, IMMEDIATELY indicate your intent to comply. Use your turn signal and slow your speed. Stop at the first place where you can safely get off the roadway. pull as far off the travel lanes as you can. (that gives the officer the room to approach your vehicle without having to worry about passing traffic) ALWAYS be polite and courteous. NEVER ARGUE WITH A COP AT THE SIDE OF THE ROAD. Do EXACTLY what he says to do. Unless they start first, I always open the conversation with “Good day Officer. You wanted to talk to me about something?” (That way, I’ve admitted nothing and indicated my intent for the encounter to be pleasant.) Don’t ask them why they pulled you over, Believe me, they WILL tell you.
    In a traffic stop, the officers first priority is their own safety (as it should be). They have no idea whether they’ve stopped a murderous psychopath or a meek accountant and have to be ready to deal with the former even if you are the later. YOUR ACTIONS, ATTITUDE, AND COMMENTS determine the course of the encounter. Do or say nothing that can be perceived as a threat to them.
    My experience has been, that MOST officers are so relieved to be able to have a polite, courteous conversation in a stop that they will cut you as much slack as they can. If they write you a ticket, REMEMBER, IT IS THEIR JOB TO ENFORCE THE LAW. Thank them for doing their job. If you disagree with the ticket, go to court. That’s the place to argue about it, not the roadside.
    My attitude in a traffic stop has earned me quite a few warnings and admonitions to “not do it again”, some pleasant conversations and very few tickets.

  8. This is just the article needed for young people whether they conceal carry or not. I have seen too many doing just what was said about what NOT to do in their panic when being pulled over.
    I have a magnet to hold my 380 in my car on the side of the console and I was told by friends that are officers that it is important to inform the attending officer of the presence of the weapon, just to keep them at ease. It is also critical to know what states accept your conceal carry permit if you cross state lines.
    Thank you so much for this article.

  9. When I am stopped by a police officer and he or she asks me for my driver’s licence, I make him or her smile by bringing my license up to my chin on my way to handing it over, as if I am reasuring him or her by comparing my face with my picture on the license that I really am giving over my own license. Then I get some empathy from the officer by mentioning that he or she as a law officer and I as a taxicab owner-operator have the two most dangerous jobs in America, and that mine is number one. I say all of this in a matter-of-fact tone of voice to let the officer know that I am not angry or hostile.

  10. Derek, this is good info to learn and maybe even role play on your own a few times. My 40 something son will benefit from your blog if I can persuade him to do so.

    I assume also that officers doing a traffic stop are trained to understand that people are going to be upset, nervous, and will tend run their mouths?

    Everyone has their own tales of woe over specific interactions with the officers that were way more unpleasant than they needed to be. My personal favorite would be being picked out of a herd of speeders. I kept myself under control and asked why single me out in my nondescript puddle jumper car that everyone else was passing? His answer, “Luck of the draw”. Grrrr.

    Thanks again for your recommendations!

  11. My favorite quote I often tell officers when casually talking to them is that L.A. County Sheriffs used to say over the radio: “When making a traffic stop he knows who you are, you don’t know who he is”. I love this.

  12. 1) Sandra Bland 2) That being said, I’m not here to plug anything, that would be inappropriate, but I have apps on my phone that can take a picture of a ticket that goes straight to my law firm, plus a 24/7 access app. If a cop asks me, “Who are you going to call at midnight on a Friday?” I’ll say, “Watch.” 🙂

  13. Excellent article. I find most sensible people are “programmed” to always do the right thing. Arguing with a cop is the wrong thing..