What to do if Stopped by the Police

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Use the following guidelines when you drive...

  • Always insure you and all occupants are properly buckled up.
  • Children under 4 years and 40 pounds must be in a child seat. Children under 7 years of age & under 80 pounds must be restrained in a booster seat. All Children under 12 years of age must be restrained in the Rear Seat.
  • Don't drink and drive. Nearly half of all fatal crashes are alcohol related. If you drink, use a designated driver.
  • Observe and obey posted speed limits. Speeding fines are expensive and may cause your insurance rates to increase.
  • Impatient and aggressive drivers are becoming increasingly common on our roadways. Drive with respect and courtesy. Aggressive driving is against the law!
  • Always avoid distractive movements while driving: using cell phones, eating or drinking, applying make-up, reading or disciplining children.


There are many different reasons why the police might stop you. Whatever the reason, the officer needs your cooperation.

  • The police may want to warn you about a potentially dangerous situation.
  • You may have committed a traffic violation.
  • Your vehicle may match the description of one used in a criminal act.
  • The officer might think you are in trouble and need help.

If you are stopped by the police while driving, you may feel confused, anxious or even angry. These are natural feelings, but remember, traffic stops can also be stressful and dangerous for the police officer. Each year, a number of law enforcement officers are killed or seriously injured while making the "routine" traffic stop. Police officers are especially vulnerable during the hours of darkness.

With this in mind, there are things that you, as a law-abiding citizen, can do to help lessen the uneasiness of the experience.

Remember: Be courteous and cooperative in any stop by the police. If you are courteous and cooperative, they will respond in kind.

Rhode Island statue 31-17-6 requires that all drivers shall yield the right of way to emergency vehicles. Drivers are to immediately pull over parallel to the nearest edge, stop and remain in a stopped position until the emergency vehicle has passed.

What to do when an officer stops you:

  • When you see the overhead lights and/or hear the siren, remain calm, slow down and pull over in a safe location off the roadway.
  • If there is any question, if in fact it is a police officer, keep your doors locked, and window down only enough to hear. If the officer is in plain clothes ask to have an uniformed officer respond. If for any reason you do not feel safe, turn on your emergency flashers and drive the normal speed limit to a well-populated area or nearest police station. You can also call 9-1-1 from your cellular phone.
  • Do not exit your vehicle unless asked to do so. This is for safety reasons.
  • Keep your hands on the steering wheel so the officer can see them.
  • If at night, Rhode Island Law requires you to turn on your interior light.
  • Inform the officer of any weapons in your vehicle and their location. Do not reach or point to the location.
  • Avoid any sudden movements, especially toward the floorboard, rear seat or passenger side of the vehicle.
  • Comply with the officer’s request to see you driver's license, proof of insurance and vehicle registration. Rhode Island law requires you to carry these with you.
  • If your documents are out of reach, tell the officer where they are before you reach them.
  • If there are passengers in your vehicle, encourage them to remain quiet and cooperate with instructions. You, as the operator, are solely responsible for your vehicle and its occupants.
  • Avoid becoming argumentative. Arguing will not change the officer's mind. If you contest the violation, you will have an opportunity to address the matter in court.
  • Answer all questions truthfully.

The officer may issue you a ticket. If you feel the reason is vague or unclear, politely ask the officer for details.
If asked to sign citation, do so. This is not an admission of guilt merely shows you received the citation.

If probable cause is present, the officer has the right to search your vehicle without your consent.

Understand that each situation is unique and the police officer must alter his or her response to fit the circumstance. Generally, however, a police officer:

  • Will provide his/her name upon request.
  • Will inform a person of the reason for being stopped.
  • Will only arrest a person for a crime committed in the officer's presence, or when the officer has probable cause to believe the person has already committed the crime.