It is possible that a careful driver could pass their entire driving career without being pulled over by the police. It’s a situation that is not covered in our provincial drivers manual Learn to Drive Smart and may only receive a brief mention during formal driver training.
My parents were responsible for my driver training and Dad’s instructions were simply that if I was stopped by the police it was “Yes sir, no sir, what can I do for you sir?” and if he heard otherwise he would deal with me when I got home. Having spent 25 years in policing, I can say that wasn’t bad advice.
The whole process starts when you see the police vehicle’s flashing red and blue lights in your rear view mirror. Depending on the officer and the situation, you may or may not also hear a siren.
If the officer chooses to use only the emergency lights, the Motor Vehicle Act requires:
the driver of a motor vehicle, when signalled or requested to stop by a peace officer who is readily identifiable as a peace officer, must immediately come to a safe stop.
The requirement to come to an immediate safe stop gives the driver a little bit of leeway to choose an appropriate place to pull over.
Turn on your right signal light to acknowledge the officer’s request, find the nearest safe spot to pull out of traffic and stop.
If the officer chooses to use emergency lights and the siren, the Motor Vehicle Act requires:
On the immediate approach of an emergency vehicle giving an audible signal by a bell, siren or exhaust whistle, and showing a visible flashing red light, except when otherwise directed by a peace officer, a driver must yield the right of way, and immediately drive to a position parallel to and as close as possible to the nearest edge or curb of the roadway, clear of an intersection, and stop and remain in that position until the emergency vehicle has passed.
In this case there is no choice, brake safely, move to the side and stop right away.
Aside from domestic disputes, traffic stops are among the most dangerous situations for police. A wise driver will choose to be non-threatening:
- Turn on your interior lights if it is dark.
- Sit still and caution your passengers to do the same.
- Keep your hands still and visible.
- Follow the officer’s instructions.
- Be polite.
- State your position but don’t argue.
It’s possible that the officer has a warning in mind and many people can successfully talk their way into a ticket at this point.
Conversation during the stop is up to you. All that the law requires is that you state your name and address and the name and address of the registered owner of the vehicle. However, some discussion may smooth the way without being incriminating.
If you do receive a traffic ticket, I have some advice on how to handle it as well.
Once the officer has finished, you are free to continue on your way. Make a safe start and rejoin traffic.
Cst. Tim Schewe (Ret.) runs DriveSmartBC, a community web site about traffic safety in British Columbia. For 25 years he was an officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, including five years on general duty, 20 in traffic and 10 as a collision analyst responsible of conducting technical investigations of collisions. He retired from policing in 2006 but continues to be active in traffic safety through the DriveSmartBC web site, teaching seminars and contributing content to newspapers and web sites.