What are my rights after getting pulled over by the police while driving?

How to handle a traffic stop and understand your rights as a driver or passenger

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You’re driving to your destination and paying attention to the road when you hear the sirens. Either way, you know what to expect: the general nervousness and tense questions. But drivers and passengers have general citizen rights that police can’t violate. Knowing your rights can save you time, money and potential legal trouble.

Talk to a lawyer for professional advice

We can research the law, helping you interpret what it means. But we’re not lawyers and this article is not intended to be taken as legal advice. If you’re looking for legal assistance, contact a lawyer or other legal expert.

What are the laws if an officer pulls me over?

Although it’s fairly rare to be pulled over by the police, there are certain things you need to know when you are stopped, including what police can legally do and what they can’t. An important thing to keep in mind is that the police have the authority to stop a vehicle for any reason and if they ask you to stop, you must. Failure to do so can lead to you being charged for breaking the law.

Among the things police are allowed to do during a stop include:

  • Ask to see your driving licence, insurance certificate or MOT certificate
  • Ask you to take an on-the-spot breath test
  • Give you a fixed penalty notice for minor traffic offences such as not wearing a seat belt or using a mobile phone while driving
  • Give you a “vehicle defect rectification” notice if you have a broken light

When can police search my vehicle?

A police officer can stop and search a vehicle, for example if he or she suspects that it contains stolen property or drugs. In some circumstances they can also search a vehicle if they have reasonable grounds to suspect there is at least £1,000 in cash or listed assets.

Bottom line

While nothing can guarantee a smooth interaction with law enforcement during a traffic stop, you can protect yourself legally and increase the chances of a favourable outcome by knowing your rights and allowable actions as a citizen. If you’re in doubt about the law or a specific situation involving the police, talk with a lawyer or your car insurance agent who can direct you towards the best course of action.

Frequently asked questions

*Based on data provided by Consumer Intelligence Ltd, www.consumerintelligence.com (March '21). 51% of car insurance customers could save £257.97.
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