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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.

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

  1. Thank you very much for your exposition. It seems much of the explanation is common sense and I agree with all of it completely. Thank you very much to explain a topic that a lot of people are touchy about.

  2. This is very good. I have found down through the years, the nicer you are to the officer, the more relaxed and mannerly he will be to you. I’m 75 years old and have seen it all on the highway. A couple times on the highway I saw an officer pull over a rowdy looking bunch. I pulled over a good ways back to make sure nothing happened. I had my phone out ready to hit 911 in case of trouble. Police officers have a tough job an I fully support them.

  3. One of the most telling statements in this story came when the author write, “I have had some harsh treatment until the officer learned that I had a gun and badge too. Then things calmed down a bit.” Being without that history leaves the rest of us with “harsh treatment.” How are we to deal with that abuse without that “former cop” card to play?

  4. I always follow these exact procedures an I have had cops tell me I’m not going to ticket u because u made this stop much easier for me

  5. Hello all! Well In Michigan you tell the officer that you have a permit and where the gun is. That is a condition of the permit. That said, I have worked on graveyard while living in Michigan, and tended to keep my schedule on my off days. So that included going to get something to eat at the local diner, going to get gas, and to the Meijer or Wal-Mart ar grocery store. Maybe even to get a cup of coffee. I have been pulled over for speeding in my 2011 Camaro numerous times. They come over and start the conversation and I realize they have a hard job. I never make it harder than it has to be. So they ask the question” Do you know how fast you were going?” I reply with “It was just under a hundred.” They may laugh, and at that point I know where we stand, If not I follow his lead and try to be no nonsense. I take my cues from them. At the end I am polite and thank them for their service. The morale of this story is that the ticket is a judgement call but if you put the officer on the defensive and you are mad that he stopped you in the first place, you may be going to traffic court. But be polite and truthful and follow his instructions and you may get off with a warning. I would say over half of my traffic stops were warnings, and they always appreciate the cooperation and honesty, BIG TIME! Take it easy and don’t loose it. Troy Lawson

  6. thank you . even the most experienced retired officer got stiffen and get a little sacred , let alone regular civilians like you and me . Let us , both law enforcement police officers and ourselves . be safe , and live a peaceful life in harmony .

  7. This is SO true! I was stoped for a very odd reason that the state trooper told me is not well known. I kept my hands on the wheel and lay him know I had a concealed carry permit but only had knives on me. He decided to go to the passenger side and look thrum the glove box himself and I never moved my hands from the wheel. He started off very aggressively but ended up joking with me about being over cautious but thankful I was. No ticket just a warning but I did pull off on the wrong side of the road. He just let me kno next time if there was one to pull off on the other side and was a very good guy once he saw I was very compliant. Hands on the wheel. It was key to how that stop turned out. Great article!

  8. Very good advice! I’m in my 70s. Never been arrested and often travel armed. I live in a state where both open and concealed carry is legal. I have never had a problem when stopped because I was taught to do pretty much exactly what was recommended here by a very good friend who also happened to be a judge. Many years ago. I would only add, “Remember that the police are people too. They want to go home the same as you want to go home. Cooperate and they will have no reason to keep you a single minute more than they need to.”

  9. The advice you’re giving the correct advice you do during a traffic stop for all law enforcement great job

  10. Great advise. Thank you for your dedication and service to others. I have been stopped, for going too fast on an expressway. He was at least 6′ also. I had my window down and my hands on the wheel. My wife, a few hours later, got really mad when I told her, Don’t say a word unless he speaks directly to you. I will spaek for myself, no interruptions. He actually thanked me for being courteous and having my hands visible. He asked me to come to his car. All my info checked and he asked me why I had a sticker with an eagle on my window. I told him that I was active duty Air Force. He told me that he had spent some years in as a Marine. I thanked him for his service. When he asked, I told him I was a medic and enlisted nurse. I told him of my first patient to care for was a Marine who was blinded and bilateral amputee. He tore the ticket up and said, I was wounded in Nam. I was very well taken care of at an Air Force base. I could never live with myself if I gave you a ticket. Slow down and observe the speed limit. Good manners and being contrite can help a lot.

  11. Excellent advice! The Police Officers want to get home safely, too. They have a tough job and we should try to make it easier on them and ourselves.
    A lot of people forget – – – JUST DO WHAT HE (OR SHE) SAYS!

  12. Great advise. Thank you for your dedication and service to others. I have only been been stopped one time, for going too fast on an expressway. He was at least 6′ also. I had my window down and my hands on the wheel. My soon-to-be wife got really mad when I told her, “Don’t say a word unless he speaks directly to you. I will spaek for myself, no interruptions.” Later, he actually thanked me for being courteous and having my hands visible. He asked me to come to his car. All my info checked and he asked me why I had a sticker with an eagle on my window. I told him that I was active duty Air Force. He told me that he had spent some years in as a Marine. I thanked him for his service. When he asked, I told him I was a medic and enlisted nurse. I told him of my first patient to care for was a Marine who was blinded and bilateral amputee. He tore the ticket up and said, I was wounded in Nam. I was very well taken care of at an Air Force base. I could never live with myself if I gave you a ticket. Slow down and observe the speed limit. Good manners and being contrite can help a lot.

  13. This was an excellent piece of advice. I used it as my main talking point when I gave a class concerning police interaction to my Boy Scout Troop, my Youth Group at church, and at the local youth detention center where I often mentor wayward youths.

  14. Don’t ever tell a boarder guard from Canada that you have a carry permit! Gun was left at home but our car was impounded over pepper spray my wife forgot she had on her purse!! Screw Canada!!!!!!

  15. All good advice. I have had drivers place their car keys on the roof. That seems a bit much, but these are trying times.

  16. I would advise anyone being stopped to have their wallet already on the dashboard with their hands on the wheel at 10 and 2 with dome light on. Then when the officer speaks to them to tell them immediately that they have the concealed weapons permit, that they are carrying their “weapon”, where it is located on their body , and ask the officer how they would like them to proceed. DO NOT USE THE WORD “GUN”. If you have a license and he pulled you over, as opposed to you coming to a checkpoint, he’s already ran your plate and knows that you have a permit.

    I’ve probably been stopped 10 times at a license check or a DUI stop point and have done exactly that in the last 15 years. Every single time the officer has been quite pleasant, occasionally asked what kind of gun, and told me to have a good evening and drive carefully. Your first words are your first impression so say then clearly and cooperatively. I would not wait until handing the officer your license and have him surprised that you also handed him a permit. When you are ahead of the curve they will have already sized you up and know you’re not a bad guy. But that doesn’t mean they drop their guard. Having a father as an NYPD Detective as well as three uncles as patrolmen I know how tough their job is and how much they appreciate someone who is polite.

    The police always win so don’t be an asshole to stroke your own ego because you might end up in a holding cell for 48 hours until a magistrate shows up if you caught him in the last hour of a really bad long week and decided to be a schmuck.

  17. In our State when pulled over the first words out of your mouth better be “there are firearms in the vehicle”. This is not a concealed carry issue it is about any firearm in the vehicle even a unloaded target pistol in a locked case when you are driveling home from a match. We are an open carry state and can conceal carry without a permit. But we respect our police and avoid issues by saying there are firearms in the vehicle and then letting the officer ask questions. Here we do not even say hello or good day before informing the officer about the firearm. Unless you are up to no good or have a red flag on his computer the officer’s normal response is “thank you for telling me.” This is Alaska and nearly everyone has firearms. The police are normally cool if you tell them immediately and act respectfully. But the law says we must inform the officer IMMEDIATELY not part way through the discussion. And you can be jailed for non-compliance.

  18. Great advise and well written. I grew up in Houston, Texas and there were two main police jurisdictions. Since you were in Harris County, there was the Harris County Sheriffs
    Department. And of course the City of Houston PD. Houston and Harris County in
    general are brimming over with some very bad people and if you didn’t follow these
    instructions you would quickly be looking at the bad side of a cop. Well done.

  19. Good Stuff Derek! I have been in a situation similar to what you have described and did exactly what you recommended. I was in the military at the time and that helped me to understand respect for the officer and realized that I had to be polite and acknowledge that he was in charge of the situation, not me. I told him that I had a 9mm Browning and a 357 Magnum single-action Ruger in my vehicle. He took a look at both weapons, gave me his approval, and left on his way. The stop went well and we parted on good terms. No ticket and no problems.

  20. I have to admit that you’re so right about all of this and because I know this, I resently was stop for speeding on a freeway and yes I was wrong and I was a gentleman. It also help us both of a good way that she was this gorgeous beautiful looking Highway patrol officer I mean she was at 10 , Hot. No disrespect to the officer but she couldn’t have said anything to do and I would’ve did it with no problem but back to what you’re saying yes it’s correct don’t move don’t flinch keep your eyes On her eyes or his face.

  21. The first thing that I say to the officer who stops me is: “I do not want you to have any surprises: “I am armed and my gun is on my right side.” “Tell me what you want me to do.” Usually, I show him my drivers license and my concealed weapon permit. I usually get a warning and no ticket. I have been stopped about four times within a thirty year period of time.

  22. Very good article of instruction. One thing ALL LEO’s hate is lying. Don’t ever lie to the officer. You’ll end up on the “short end of the stick”.

  23. Great article and I agree that disclosing, up front, that you are a licensed concealed carrier and that you are armed is a good practice – all in a calm and non aggressive manner. I have nothing to hide and want the officer to be full informed so there are no surprises.

  24. I HAVEN’T BEEN PULLED OVER OR HAD A CITATION SINCE OCTOBER 1969 !! 3 DAYS AFTER RETURNING FROM VIETNAM AND I DESERVED THE SPEEDING TICKET THAT I RECEIVED ( 23 YEAR OLD MARINE SERGEANT WHO SERVED 19 MONTHS IN HUE AND PHUBAI 35 MILES FROM THE DMZ ) !

    I’M NOW 72 AND I USE MY CRUISE CONTROL CONSTANTLY AND MY TURN SIGNALS TO A FAULT !!
    THANK YOU FOR YOUR ADVICE AND ESPECIALLY FOR YOUR SERVICE AS AN OFFICER !!!!

  25. Thanks for such a perfect outline of what a cop is thinking, and what you do or don’t want to do if you intend to not go to jail. This is very sage advice – I wish everyone could read this and gain a better understanding of what a traffic stop entails!

  26. Well, in South Africa, you don’t stop for the cops. There are too many gangsters posing as police officers, who want to hijack you, kill you or steal your vehicle.
    If someone flashes their lights at you and it looks like a police vehicle, you are advised to go to the nearest police station. Corruption is rampant even in the police force here and alot of the cops are ex MK fighters from the ANC communist terrorist group.

  27. I am a limousine Chauffer and was pulled over late one night, when the State Trooper came up he identified as such,and before he got completly to my window I said to him sir before we go any farther I am carrying he said what are you carrying and where I told him a 9mm under my right arm in a shoulder holster, he said please keep your hands on the steering where he could see them and then he asked for my license and LTC and everything went fine.when he gave me my license and LTC back he thanked me for letting him know I was carrying.

  28. Excellent advice, however, I have 14 years as a LEO and 25 years as a Forensic Scientist reconstructing homicides/shooting incidents. In my practices, I keep my DL and Concealed Carry License in the same pocket of my ID case, so I am pulling out both as one unit and handing them with CCL on top for officer to see my CCL first! That ID Holder depending on clothing is (Clerical Suit or dress clothes suit) in my shirt (left) pocket or (casual clothing) in my LEFT rear Pants pocket while my side arm is in my waist band at my rearward, RIGHT hip.

    When the officer advised me that he wanted my hands of the steering wheel when he walked back up to my car. I respond politely, OF COURSE, Officer! I want to have my hands in your plain sight! Please be aware, I will be watching in my Mirror for your return, SO I can make sure to have my hands on my steering wheel when you come back! IF the officer gives you different instructions, follow them! You WANT him feeling in control and that he IS dealing with a good John Q Public! (Because a driver looking intently in his rear view mirrors WATCHING THE OFFICER raises HIS/HER cautionary level for a driver’s plot to surprise attack him/her!)

  29. Even Us that carry when not on the Job know we need to identify our selves to the Police Officer pulling you Over and comply with every rule/ Command of the law I usually do the exact same thing you just payed out and so far it has worked out for me pretty well never had any issues with any Law Enforcement agency till now . Stay safe and watch your Six .

  30. Here in OH, we are _required_ to _immediately_ inform any Officers involved that we’re licensed _and_ carrying. If we’re not licensed, this doesn’t matter at all. If we’re not actually _carrying_, this doesn’t matter at all, but he/she may not know that.

    If another Officer approaches, we’re supposed to immediately notify him/her.

  31. This was very helpful, thank you, especially for “the well balanced young man with a chip on each shoulder”

  32. I carry my driver’s license and CCW together and hand both to the officer at once while keeping both hands outside of the driver window. I let the officer question and instruct me and repeat his direction before doing as he instructed. Good results with this approach. Your thoughts please.

  33. Thank you for this article. I was never a civilian police officer, but I was a Military Police officer from 1955 to 1957 and again from 1960 to 1962. My stepson was with the LAPD for over 30 years. My grand daughter was a police officer for a few years. Yup, there have been some police officers in my immediate family. I especially liked your comments about a traffic stop. Darn good information. I know a bit about stops. My first job as a Military Policeman was working with the German Police on patrol on the Autobahn in Germany. I did that for a couple months as a 19 year old. My final career job was as a Security Specialis for Raytheon and later for Lockheed Martin. I totally retired in 2008. Life is great. Thank you again for this article.

  34. I Have been lucky to not been stopped by a cop or had a ticket since 2007 (that was the last one I have gotten) I do carry a Semi-automatic Pistol 45 Cal. (notice I didn’t say Firearm) because 99% of the people that carry DON’T have a Firearm. (see Title 26 USC Sec: 5845 for a definition) and see if you own a Firearm. I have been studying the law on my own for about 20 years mostly Income tax law and try not to do anything wrong, especially while riding in my truck. When the Cop pulls you over and asks you for your license, you need “real politely” ask for a Written Complaint, an Affidavit of that Complaint and a Search Warrant pursuant to the Federal Code of Civil procedure Rules 3,4,5, and Criminal procedure rule 4 before you hand over your license. I am not trying to be a SMART ASS, but that the law and the Cop probably not going to know what you are talking about because they are told to never study the law and if they have a question about the law go and ask a lawyer. You have some cops out there that will make up violations on you in order to get a ticket (quota ticket). Don’t believe me go look it up for your self.