First, you should know how to determine there is a real officer behind you. Keep in mind, this law only relates to California since each state has different laws.
During my eighteen year law enforcement career, I have investigated several cases of impersonating an officer. Several of these cases were involving a suspect driving a vehicle resembling a police vehicle with flashing red lights and a siren.
First, It is important to know how to tell whether you are being stopped by a legitimate police officer.
You know you are in front of a legitimate police vehicle if you see at least one solid red light in your rear-view mirror. Local police will usually have a solid red light and a blue flashing light to identify them as the police. CHP will usually have a solid red light and red flashing lights. The law only requires one solid forward-facing red light. The flashing lights are for extra identification purposes.
If you don’t see a solid red light, call 911 and keep driving until you are able to confirm there is a legitimate police vehicle. This emergency situation is an exclusion to the cell phone laws (23123 CVC).
This brings me to the purpose of this article.
A traffic stop is one of the most dangerous and the quickest way for an officer to get killed. Every officer must be very cautious when approaching a vehicle. I will not go into details but, suffice it to say there are specific training and procedures an officer must follow to make the approach as safe as possible.
When an office is approaching your door, he/she does not know if you are a harmless law-abiding citizen or a criminal that just committed a murder or an armed robbery. The officer has to be prepared for the worst. An officer’s #1 goal is to return home to their family each night. If they seem nervous, there is likely a good reason so, just cooperate and everything will be fine.
The most important issue here is to make sure the officer can see your hands. You can put your hands on the steering wheel, your lap or dash board. My recommendation is just keep your hands clearly visible to the officer.
You can roll down your window before the officer arrives at your door or you can wait for their directions. DO NOT open your door and get out of the vehicle. While this is not illegal; it creates major concern for the officer that you are hiding something or you want to attack him/her. This has happened.
If your wallet is in your pocket, just wait until the officer contacts you and makes the request. When he/she asks you to get your driver license, they know you are going to reach for your pocket or glove box so, they should be “ok” with that because, they will be watching your hands as you reach for your wallet. It is helpful if you tell the officer where you are reaching. It is acceptable for you to communicate with the officer during this time. In-fact that is preferred.
Remember, many officers have been killed making traffic-stops. The media refer to them as “routine” traffic stops. I have made many traffic-stops during my career and not one traffic-stop was routine. Each one could have been my last day alive. I was blessed that, for me, all my traffic stops were safe. However, they were not safe until the other driver was gone.