What Are My Rights When I've Been Pulled Over?

A Simple Guide for Most Traffic Stops

You’re driving down the highway or on a backcountry road when a police car races up behind you flashing its warning lights and blaring its siren.


            Busted!  Or are you?  Don’t panic.  You have more legal rights than you think, and exercising them effectively can make a big difference in the outcome of any routine traffic stop.


            For the purpose of this article, let’s assume that you have not consumed any alcohol or drugs.  Please see Pulled Over for DWI in New York for information on DWI related traffic stops.


1.  Do I have to pull over?

            Yes.  The officer is most likely the eye-witness of whatever traffic law you allegedly violated, such as speeding. Therefore, he has probable cause to stop your car.

            You are, in essence, being arrested and maintain all the legal rights as anyone charged with a crime.[1]  However, police are not required to advise you of your Miranda rights unless you are actually taken into custody (handcuffed or placed in police car).


2.  Do I have to answer any questions?

            No.  You are merely required to supply the officer with your driver license, registration, and insurance information, because driving an automobile is considered by New York State to be a privilege, not a right.


            However, you will likely draw suspicion to yourself or appear uncooperative if you refuse to answer questions.  Therefore, it’s usually advisable to answer some preliminary questions with very general information (more on this below).


            The officer’s first words will likely be, “license and registration please.”  It’s best to have these documents out and ready to hand the officer when he or she comes up to your window.


            The officer will then check to make sure your license, registration, and insurance are valid.  If any of them are not valid, then you will likely be issued tickets.[2] [3] [4]  The officer may also ask further questions, such as, “do you know why I pulled you over.”  Your response should always be, “no, officer.”


*TIP: Always refer the police officer as “officer”, “sir”, or “ma’am”.  It’s a courteous thing to do and shows your cooperation during the stop.


            The officer will probably say, “I clocked you going [X] miles-per-hour.” 


            If you know that you were speeding at or below whatever the officer said your speed was then you may as well say so.  It shows the officer honesty, and will rarely affect the opportunity to plea bargain and get a reduction of the charge in most courts.


            If you believe you were not speeding, then you can politely tell the officer that, but do not get upset or argumentative.  The roadside is not the time or place to fight a traffic ticket.  Save any and all arguments for court, or for your attorney to handle.  Also, it is NOT a valid defense that you didn’t know what the posted speed limit was, so forget using that excuse to the officer or court.


            While further questioning is rare during simple speeding stops, it sometimes happens, especially at night when police may suspect intoxication or any criminal activity.  If you give any answers at all, make them very general, especially about your location and activities.



Where are you headed tonight? Answer: I’m heading home.

Where are you coming from?  Answer: I was at a friend’s house.

What were you doing there?  Answer:  I’m sorry officer, but my lawyer told me never to answer a question like that.


            It sounds stupid, right?  It works.  By answering a couple of simple questions, you show a level of cooperation with the officer.  However, by politely declining to answer or mentioning the word “lawyer,” the officer realizes that you know your legal rights and are prepared to exercise them.  You may end up getting a speeding ticket, but you certainly wouldn’t want any additional charges based on what you said you were doing at your friend’s house.


*Warning: if questioning seems to be going on too long, or too detailed for a routine stop, then politely stop giving answers.  When in doubt, ask for an attorney AND then call one # (716) 465-2532.


By: Andrew Fiske, Esq.

Buffalo, New York


Call (716) 465-2532 or email fiskelaw@gmail.com for a free consultation regarding any criminal or traffic law charges.

[1] See People v. Sperbeck, 5 Misc.2d 849, 165 N.Y.S.2d 958 (N.Y.Co.Ct., 1957) (holding that the usual safeguards and protections afforded to those accused of a crime should be extended to those accused of a traffic offense).


[2] Aggravated Unlicensed Operation (“AUO”) in the 3rd degree, under New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law ("VTL") Section 511 is a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum fine of $500 and/or 30 days in jail.


[3] Unregistered vehicle, under VTL §401(a) is a violation, punishable by a maximum court fine of $300.


[4] No insurance, under VTL §319 is a violation, punishable by a maximum court fine of $1,500; plus a $750 civil penalty from the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles.