For Teen Drivers: What To Do When Pulled Over

Your fingers tap the steering wheel to the song playing on your iPod, and your head sways back and forth. Fifteen minutes more and you’re finally home. School…studies . . . work . . . it’s been a long day. A chance look at your watch and suddenly everything changes. Your palms sweat and your grip tightens. “I can’t be late again. They’ll ground me for sure.” You swerve into the next lane and stomp on the gas. A horn sounds. You glance to the right, and then you see them . . . flashing red and blue. Your heart quickens and your foot slips off the accelerator. It’s a pullover.

“Getting pulled over may be the only contact a teen driver will have with the police,” says Senior Oregon State Police Trooper, Douglas Brown. “It can be a highly emotional and uncomfortable experience.” Sergeant Ryan Tanner with Washington State Patrol agrees. “I’ve made hundreds of traffic stops and I know teen drivers who are prepared are less stressful than those who are not. Young drivers need to know why they might be stopped, what they should do, and how they should act.”

Why Teen Drivers Get Pulled Over

“The main reason drivers are pulled over,” continues Sgt. Tanner, “ is for safety. Our goal is to make the roads safe for young drivers, their friends, family and everyone else on the road.”
      Pull overs can be for minor problems such as vehicle safety issues.  These would include a headlight that’s out or a broken tail light. Sgt. Tanner emphasizes that it’s important to make sure your vehicle is in proper working order for everyone’s safety.
“Then there are the regular moving violations that can cause us to stop a driver,” adds Sr. Trooper Brown.  “Not using your turn signal when moving into another lane would be an example of a moving violation.”
The major reasons for being pulled over are much more serious. Both officers agree that these have a significant impact on teen safety and a potential for a serious accident. They are: speeding, aggressive driving like weaving in and out of traffic, tailgating, illegally passing another vehicle, DUI and not using a seat belt. How serious are they?
 According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) thirty-five percent of all teen (ages 15-20 years) deaths are caused by motor vehicle accidents. NHTSA further states that fatal crashes involving teens are three times any other age group. “Young drivers have limited experience,” explains Sr. Trooper Brown.  “There are many things that can distract a young driver to the point of losing control of the vehicle.” 
Sr. Trooper Brown emphasizes that using a cell phone, sending a text message, talking with others in the car, and even switching stations on the radio can be detrimental. Recognizing the danger, many states such as Oregon and Washington have enacted laws which prohibit drivers from holding a cell phone to their ears or texting. 

What Should You Do When You are Pulled Over?

“Knowing why an officer might stop you is an important part of driver’s education,” states Sgt. Tanner, “but knowing how to react when those lights flash in your mirror is just as important.”
He recommends three things that a young driver should do when experiencing a pull over. “Stay calm, remain calm and listen to the officer.”
Stay calm when you see a red or red and blue light behind you. Don’t hit the brakes or cut people off trying to quickly get to the side of the road. “Don’t make a snap or panic decision,” says Sgt. Tanner.  “There is time to put on your turn signal and move slowly into the right lane then the right shoulder.”
Sr. Trooper Brown adds, “the simple act of turning on your turn signal, tells the officer I see you and I’m pulling over. This often allows the officer to help you pull over by blocking other vehicles in the other lanes so you can pull over safely.”
Once you are safe on the shoulder, remain calm. Sgt. Tanner advises drivers not to “make any sudden movements. No looking under your seat or searching through the glove box. Allow the officer to contact you first.”
Sr. Trooper Brown prefers drivers to keep their hands on the wheel after pulling over.  “If it’s dark, you can turn on the dome light if it makes you more comfortable.”
Officers can approach your vehicle from either the driver’s or passenger side or from both. If you have electric windows, roll them down at least half way before you turn off your engine. A word of caution: if your windows are not electric, wait for the officer to contact you so you are not moving back and forth, trying to open the passenger side window.
Listen to the officer. “I always introduce myself and my agency first. Then I explain the reason for the stop,” explains Sgt. Tanner.  “I want the young driver’s full attention.  I need to know he understands what I’m saying, and respond accordingly.”

How Should You Act During a Pull Over?

      “Attitude is just as important as knowing what to do when stopped,” says Sr. Trooper Brown.  “It’s not the place for the teen to argue, beg or become hysterical. I don’t expect Yes, Sir, to everything I say. Teens can disagree with the reason I stopped them, but I expect them to be polite and honest.”
Both officers advise having your driver’s license easily accessible.  Fumbling or searching for it when stopped keeps the officer waiting.  “The longer it takes,” warns Sgt. Tanner, “the more likely you are to try the officer’s patience which could mean the difference between a warning and a citation.”
When asked for your registration and insurance information, provide it. Again, keep it handy and up to date. Sr. Trooper Brown recommends you keep both your registration and your insurance card in the bottom of the glove box. This makes it very easy to retrieve when needed.  As an added note, he suggests, throwing out the expired ones as soon as the new ones arrive.
After the officer clears you to go, pull back into traffic carefully.  Use your blinker to let other cars know you’re moving from the shoulder and into the lane.  A safe pull-away from the officer is just as important as the pull over.     

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