Lights & Sirens

by Gavin Holihan

It’s late at night and you are driving home. Your day is over but behind you are lights and sirens. What you do next will have long lasting implications. It is wise to consider some basic truths; the police are allowed to pull you over, they are allowed to investigate. In almost all cases you should safely pull your car over, and wait in the car for the officer to approach you.  Put your window down so you can hear and put your hands on the steering wheel where the officer can see them.  Do not get out of your car unless told to by the officer.  Do not volunteer any information; the officer will tell you what he wants and direct you to get any paperwork he wants to see.  He does not have to tell you why he pulled you over and he does not have to read you the Miranda warnings.  You are required to provide him with your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance.  Be calm, be clear, and be polite. Tell your passengers to do the same.  Remember that anytime an officer stops a car, there is a level of concern because the officer does not know what to expect.  Some experts believe that a vehicle stop is one of the most dangerous parts of a police officer’s job.  By displaying calm compliance with the officer’s requests you can help prevent the situation from becoming aggressive, hostile and dangerous.

If the reason you were stopped is a traffic violation the officer has discretion to cite you or give you a warning instead.  Warnings are good and should be followed by a “thank you” and your promise to drive more safely.  Even a citation should be received calmly as there will likely be an opportunity later for the same officer to withdraw the citation or recommend a lesser offense or a lower fine.

If the reason you were stopped is more serious, like operating with a license suspension, or suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI), the downside to making the wrong decision is more drastic. The police can arrest you for DUI based on suspicion alone.  You will be asked to submit to a blood test.  In almost every situation you should consent to having your blood drawn.  In Pennsylvania, refusing to submit to a DUI blood test will cause your license to be suspended for one year in addition to any penalty imposed for the DUI.  Even people found not guilty of the DUI will lose their license for one year if they refused to provide a blood sample.

Pennsylvania has 3 increasing levels in its DUI law with increasing punishments.  When a DUI is accompanied by the refusal to submit to a blood test, the highest punishment automatically applies.  It is better to provide a blood sample, even one that comes back very high, than it is to refuse to submit to the test.

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