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Traffic Stops

Student Legal Services - ASUW

Traffic Stops

When can the police pull me over?
You can be pulled over whenever the police observe you violating a traffic law.

Can the police ask me questions during a traffic stop? 
Generally, police can ask you questions that relate to the reason for which you were stopped. In other words, if you are pulled over for speeding the police may ask things relating to why you were in such a hurry or where you were going, since those questions relate to the reason for you being stopped (i.e. speeding), and puts the traffic stop into context. Typically, police are not allowed to ask questions that do not closely relate to the reason you were stopped. For instance, if you are stopped for having a broken tail light, it may be improper for the police to ask questions about whether you have drugs in your car, as that does not relate to the reason you were stopped. However, asking questions unrelated to the stop may be permitted if the questions do not extend the duration of the stop. So, if you are pulled over for a broken tail light, the police may be able to ask you about drugs in your car, for instance, as long as those questions don't prolong the traffic stop. Also, if you provide consent for further questioning, or if the police reasonably suspect that you are engaged in other illegal activity, due to the facts and circumstances of the particular situation, then they can ask you questions relating to that activity, even though that is not why you were initially stopped. For example, if you were stopped for having a broken tail light and the police see what appears to be drug paraphernalia in your car then they can probably ask you whether there are drugs in the car, even though that is not why you were initially stopped. Even if the police ask you questions, you do not have to answer any of them.

Do I have to provide the police with any information during a traffic stop?
Yes, the police may request your driver's license, proof of insurance, and vehicle registration or rental papers, if you are driving a rental car.

How long can the police "detain" me during a traffic stop? 
The police may only stop, or "detain," you during a traffic stop for a period of time that is reasonably necessary to be able to complete routine matters relating to a traffic stop. These matters include time to request your driver's license, proof of insurance, and vehicle registration or rental papers, if you are driving a rental car, run a computer check of your information, and issue a citation or a warning. Once you have provided the police with the information described above and the officer is given reasonable time to complete a computer check, determine that your license is valid, that you are entitled to be driving the vehicle, and write a citation or a warning, then you must be allowed to leave without further delay. However, the officer may extend the traffic stop beyond this time limit if the officer reasonably suspects that criminal activity has occurred or is occurring. If that happens, then the officer can extend the time you are detained in order to further investigate his/her suspicions relating to the crime.

Can the police "pat me down" during a traffic stop?
This depends. An officer may conduct a pat down for weapons if considering the totality of the circumstances, he or she reasonably suspects that you are armed or dangerous. During a routine traffic stop, without more, the police generally would not be able to pat you down for weapons. However, if, for example, the officer sees a bulge in your waistband and you seem extremely nervous then the officer may be able to pat you down since the officer may reasonably suspect that you are armed because of the way you are acting and the bulge in your waistband that may be a weapon.

Can the police search my car during a traffic stop? 
Generally, the police may not search your car when you are pulled over for a traffic violation. Accordingly, if the police ask you if they may search your car you have the right to refuse to allow them to search. However, there are certain situations when the police may be able to search your car during a traffic stop. First, if they have a warrant to search. Second, if the police have probable cause, then they may search your vehicle and any containers or areas in the car that may conceal whatever it is that the police are searching for, without your consent or a warrant. Third, if the police ask you if they can search and you provide them with consent. However, if you provide consent they must stop searching if you change your mind and tell them to stop. Fourth, the police can look through your vehicle's windows at anything that is in "plain view." Fifth, under certain circumstances, if you are arrested during the traffic stop the police may be able to search your car.

Can the police make me (the driver) or the passengers get out of the car during a traffic stop? 
Yes, the police can make both drivers and passengers get out of the vehicle during a traffic stop for officer safety without having any suspicion whatsoever that you or your passengers pose any kind of threat to them. However, the length of the traffic stop still cannot last longer than a normal traffic stop.


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1000 E. University Ave. Laramie, WY 82071
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