Top 5 Ways To Get Pulled Over by the Cops

What Catches the Attention of Traffic Police?


  • Driving Picture

    Driving Picture

    Knowing what leads to traffic stops can keep your license free of tickets. | October 03, 2011

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It's easier to get pulled over than you think. All you need to do is commit one of the five violations we've listed below. For even faster results, try combining two infractions at once. Many drivers find this very effective.

Actually, the real reason for this list is to stop you from being pulled over by the police. By seeing driving behavior from the traffic cop's point of view, you can avoid encounters with the law. A little extra awareness could help you keep points off your driving record and keep down the cost of your car insurance.

Three police agencies and two independent traffic experts loaned their expertise for this list of the most common traffic stops. There were some minor variations in opinion, depending on the police agency. But this list shows you the things to watch out for if you want to avoid unwanted contact with the boys (and girls) in blue.

1. Speeding. This was on everyone's list, and the reason is simple. The faster you go, the longer it takes to react to an unexpected situation, whether it's a pedestrian stepping into the street or another car making an unexpected lane change, says Detective William Bustos, officer in charge of the Los Angeles Police Department's traffic detectives. Braking distances also increase as speed builds, and it takes about 120 feet for a vehicle to stop when it's traveling 60 mph. Speeding is common in Bustos' jurisdiction, the San Fernando Valley, which has 230 square miles of mostly wide, straight streets. As recently as the early 2000s, the area attracted frequent street races that played like scenes out of The Fast and the Furious and its sequels.

People are driving faster than they did in the past, particularly on the freeways in the busy area of south Los Angeles, notes Edward McElroy, a California Highway Patrol officer. "People seem impatient; their commutes are longer than ever before," McElroy says. CHP officers write tickets, particularly for speeding, in an attempt to control the "mileage death rate" — the number of people who die per freeway mile. That's a sobering thought.

Alex Carroll, author of Beat the Cops, which has sold more than 250,000 copies, offers an opinion on how far over the speed limit a driver can go without being pulled over: 5-7 mph "easy," he says. The officers interviewed for this story confirmed that there's a "buffer," but added that the decision to cut a speeder some slack is up to the officer's discretion.

2. Illegal cell phone use. Distracted driving, usually because of texting or talking on a mobile phone, is high on the list of ticket bait developed by our experts. Although just a few states ban all cell phone use in cars, more than 30 have banned texting behind the wheel. "People think, 'I'll just make a quick call,' or 'This text will only take a second,'" Bustos says. "But you have to drive as if your life depended on it — because it does."

Sgt. Jeff Wiles, who heads the Santa Monica Police Department's traffic division and patrols the city on a BMW motorcycle, says illegal cell phone use is common — and responsible for a lot of trouble. "The really horrific stories about texting make the news," he says, "But we see accidents and even just fender-benders from it every day."

3. Hazardous driving. This is a catch-all category for common violations that each of our experts noted. Wiles ticks off his favorites without hesitation: stop sign and stoplight violations, improper lane changes, illegal U-turns, failures to yield and unsafe speeds. CHP officer McElroy says he sees people who apparently have forgotten they're driving cars: They're busy shaving, eating and even changing clothes. And what exactly is the violation you're committing when you're changing clothes in a car? "Unsafe speed," he says. "There is no safe speed for pulling a shirt off over your head while driving."

4. Equipment violations. Everyone knows the movie scene where a cop smashes a taillight to justify a traffic stop. But in real life, there's little need for that, our experts say. People commit a multitude of code violations all on their own. Leading the list are heavily tinted windows, burned-out headlights, broken windshields, expired tags, the lack of a front license plate (in California and some other states) and loud exhaust modifications.

5. Following too closely and improper lane changes. This one was a tie. Both of these violations are forms of hazardous driving that our police sources specifically called out. McElroy says that on the freeways of Los Angeles, following too closely can easily cause accidents by shortening a driver's reaction time. Combine that with cell phone use or texting and it is a recipe for disaster, he says.

An improper lane change means cutting someone off or changing lanes without looking first, Bustos says. Failure to signal can also be added to this ticket, he says, but it usually doesn't initiate the traffic stop — partly because the failure to signal is so common.

A Traffic Cop Critic's List
Police officers aren't the only ones keeping track of what gets drivers in trouble. Gary Biller, executive director of the National Motorists Association, which is often critical of law enforcement's handling of traffic stops, listed some attention-getting moves that the police experts didn't mention, including:

  • Cruising in the left lane of a multilane highway instead of using it only to pass slower traffic on the right
  • Driving more slowly than the normal traffic flow
  • Peeling out from a stoplight or stop sign, and squealing tires in general
  • Drag racing
  • Racking up lots of unpaid parking or traffic violations

These are things that make your car stand out and catch an officer's eye. Biller adds that plastering the back of your car with offensive bumper stickers and decals will definitely draw unwelcome attention. Carroll agrees that this will increase the chances of a traffic stop, and adds, "This is particularly so if your sticker conflicts with the cop's views or is a rival of his favorite sports team."

Watch Your Mouth
Traffic stops often have a tipping point. Because officers have legal discretion in what they can cite you for, saying or doing the wrong thing can compound your problems. Carroll says that a traffic cop might add extra violations if the motorist is belligerent. Act like a jerk and Carroll says, "They'll write you up for everything else they can."

Say that a police officer uses this time-honored opening line: "Do you know why I stopped you?" Take a minute before you answer, Carroll says. If you admit guilt or name a specific speed that you were driving, your fate is sealed. Instead, respond courteously but remain vague, he advises. However, "If you have clearly done something wrong, and you sit there and you're evasive with the cops, it's not necessarily in your best interest," he says.

If you plan on contesting the ticket in court it's really better to say very little. The officer is expected to have a clear recollection of the traffic stop.

A lot of traffic-ticket gotchas — and serious accidents — begin with a frustrated, impatient driver. If you really don't want a ticket, try chilling out. Santa Monica officer Jeff Wiles offers this advice: "Put on a relaxing radio station or CD and be patient, because traffic is bad and there will be delays."

Comments

  • noscut noscut Posts:

    Perhaps the reason for not using a turn signal is that if you are holding a cell phone with one hand and driving with the other, there is no hand left to use the signal.

  • patches9 patches9 Posts:

    I agree 100% driving too slow is a reason to get pulled over. Often I get really angry however with the dope driving a vehicle covered with snow and none of the windows are cleared off! That to me is a good reason to be pulled over for driving to endanger and should be punishable more so than an expired inspection sticker ( $150.00 ) fine. WAKE UP!

  • ironcarbman ironcarbman Posts:

    the sixth would be DWB.

  • tannim tannim Posts:

    Well, when cops start to obey the laws they're supposed to enforce instead of breaking them, maybe they'll get more respect and not be perceived as Revenue Extraction Officials! Cops are not immune from illegal U-turns, speeding, improper lane changes, or similar violations they go after everyone else for. As for the bumper stickers, they serve a purpose of identifying the vehcile more easily if stolen, and if the cop can't get past the stickers content, then he's not professional enough to wear the costume and badge and should seek another line of work. Driving slower then the traffic flow is not a standout to a cop if the driver is not speeding and is obeying traffic laws. If a cop is ticketing people for following the road laws but everyone else isn't, then the cop is revenue trolling and not properly doing his job. As for speeding, when cops learn to properly apply the basic speed law and know what the roads they're trolling on are engineered to handle versus what they are signed for at too low of a speed, then maybe they can complain about speeding. However, far too many cops have zero clue what the basic speed law says or how to apply it, so they revert to their substandard training and use the signs and radar guns instead. Most straight roads are signed at 15 MPH below what is the edge of safety. Most road curves and offramps are also signed at 15 under. Hard 90 turns are usually signed correctly, however.

  • tannim tannim Posts:

    IOW, the #1 cause for people getting pulled over is incompetent cops. Selective enforcement of the traffic laws by itself proves that.

  • tannim tannim Posts:

    IOW, the #1 cause for people getting pulled over is incompetent cops. Selective enforcement of the traffic laws by itself proves that.

  • tannim tannim Posts:

    Well, when cops start to obey the laws they're supposed to enforce instead of breaking them, maybe they'll get more respect and not be perceived as Revenue Extraction Officials! Cops are not immune from illegal U-turns, speeding, improper lane changes, or similar violations they go after everyone else for. As for the bumper stickers, they serve a purpose of identifying the vehcile more easily if stolen, and if the cop can't get past the stickers content, then he's not professional enough to wear the costume and badge and should seek another line of work. Driving slower then the traffic flow is not a standout to a cop if the driver is not speeding and is obeying traffic laws. If a cop is ticketing people for following the road laws but everyone else isn't, then the cop is revenue trolling and not properly doing his job. As for speeding, when cops learn to properly apply the basic speed law and know what the roads they're trolling on are engineered to handle versus what they are signed for at too low of a speed, then maybe they can complain about speeding. However, far too many cops have zero clue what the basic speed law says or how to apply it, so they revert to their substandard training and use the signs and radar guns instead. Most straight roads are signed at 15 MPH below what is the edge of safety. Most road curves and offramps are also signed at 15 under. Hard 90 turns are usually signed correctly, however.

  • schoolmarm schoolmarm Posts:

    A gold star for CHP officer McElroy there is no safe speed to be pulling your shirt off while driving a car. I'd also call that distracted driving.Unless you'r in avehicle with no roof, you'r not caatching those rays anyway. What price tanning?

  • pdr1956 pdr1956 Posts:

    If I am on My Motor Cycle the saying Loud Pipes Save Lives,because they do not see you they may at least hear You and take notice

  • wildkippy wildkippy Posts:

    it don't matter what you do or say OR if you ask for a pass on the ticket, the cop is going to write it because his chief tells him to. The cop is told to Get Stats Up and ignore crime doers if it's worth getting more bang for the bucks. look what happened in NYC recently. one cop blew the whistle on this corrupt behaviour. it's just a microcosm of the whole nation. cops stop you for the least little reason nowadays to get stats up. I drive like an old man yet I got 4 speeding tickets so far this year! so when I start arguing with the cop about his faulty radar app. he blows his top & threatens me with jailtime. who can win against this kind of corruption?

  • ruebezahl ruebezahl Posts:

    These are all valid reasons, yet I would really like to the police driving properly too. Most times cops never signal, at other times they will zoom by you without any lights or sirens on. Then right in front of them a car will go through a red light and they turn a blind eye instead of ticketing someone on such a serious offense. I have witnessed this several times!

  • ruebezahl ruebezahl Posts:

    These are all valid reasons, yet I would really like to the police driving properly too. Most times cops never signal, at other times they will zoom by you without any lights or sirens on. Then right in front of them a car will go through a red light and they turn a blind eye instead of ticketing someone on such a serious offense. I have witnessed this several times!

  • rcinsf rcinsf Posts:

    Scott, Re: the fast lane. I agree about slow drivers in the fast lane BUT if you exceed the posted speed limit, even in the fast lane, you are speeding and can be cited for such. RCinSF

  • Can I just say to Scott Klein, and anyone who agrees with him, that if another driver is traveling at the speed limit in the left lane, it is perfectly acceptable. Seeing as how it's called the speed LIMIT, you can be ticketed for going even one mile per hour above the limit if the officer feels like it. You should at no point in time be exceeding the LIMIT, by law. If you're in a rush, just leave your house early. It's not every other drivers problem if you're late, just yours.

  • enyberg enyberg Posts:

    scottklein1, you don't get the whole concept of a speed limit do you? Period. End of explanation!

  • Or another one. The ones who place their GPS either in front of them or in the center of the dash. Put it in the Upper Left hand corner of the windshield, nothing coming from that direction. If on the Lower Left, it will cover a pedestrian. Remember a pack of cigarettes will hide a Motorcycle, imagine what a GPS sitting there will hide.

  • Could you please show me a drivers manual from any state or Puerto Rico that says there is a fast lane? I bet you cant. Sooo.. You are obviously a Aggressive Driver.. and How many Tickets do you have? LOL

  • So I have a couple of questions. Can you get pulled over for reckless driving or equipment failure for: 1) driving around with a cracked windshield or 2) like another commenter said, for driving with your windshield covered with snow or ice?

  • wigan wigan Posts:

    When stopped just blame it on the boogie?

  • wigan wigan Posts:

    @katiefusion360 1) If I was a traffic cop and saw you driving with cracked windshield (taking into account M.O.T. regulations) unless you were going to take it for repair/replacement I would stop you and have the vehicle recovered as you are a risk to yo

  • pete5668 pete5668 Posts:

    Noscut, do you only have one finger on each hand? You can use your ring and pinky fingers to activate the signal as you are steering with your right hand.

  • pete5668 pete5668 Posts:

    You can pull your sweatshirt off if you are on a straight road and there are no cars within sight from the front, side, or rear. I do it all the time. I do mean NO CARS AT ALL though. Or, just do it while stopped at a red light.

  • Making your car look like a 'Rat Rod' with primer etc will also make every cop you pass want to pull you over determined to get you off the road if possible.

  • julieclair julieclair Posts:

    umm when a cop pulled me over and told me my music was louder than his and wrote me a ticket for disturbing the peace when the only peace i disturbed was his from playing on facebook and listening to music. seriously cops are pushing a cuota and they tend to enjoy the authority they have which in turns makes most of them [non-permissible content removed]. I would like to know if statistically cops writing traffic tickets prevent any accidents or very few

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