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What is a Moving Traffic Violation and How Long Does it Stay on Your Record

Motor Vehicle Traffic Stop Overview

A traffic stop is when a law enforcement officer pulls a vehicle over for violating a traffic infraction, committing/committed a non-traffic crime or for a wellbeing check. Pulling a vehicle over for a traffic violation is easy to understand, but pulling someone over for a non-traffic crime and wellbeing check is also a key tool officers use to keep their communities safe. The threshold for conducting a motor vehicle stop is reasonable suspicion and not probable cause (Read more about the difference between reasonable suspicion and probable cause here).

Traffic Violation:

There are numerous traffic violations with the number of different infractions being somewhere in the 1000s. To list everyone would be a hopeless task, but the common ones deal with operation, (speeding, stop sign/light violations) equipment violations (headlight/brake light out), and improper RMV documents/authorization (expired inspection/registration/insurance.)

Non-Traffic Crime motor vehicle stop.

Let’s say an officer was dispatched to a local shopping mall, where a woman claims that she was just robbed by a male who ripped he purse from her hand. She stated that the suspect then ran out of the store and jumped into a vehicle. As the officer is nearing the shopping plaza, they receive an update that the suspect is a white male in his 30’s, who jumped into a dark red SUV and just took a left out of the shopping plaza. At this time the officer then sees a dark red SUV with a white male operating it approximately 30 seconds later driving the other direction of the shopping plaza. Even though the officer was never given a license plate, he has reasonable suspicion that vehicle is involved, so he can initiate the traffic stop to further investigate the incident.

Well-Being Check Motor Vehicle Stop

Now let’s say an individual (reporting party) calls the police saying that they are driving behind a red ford with a license plate of CRIMEROOM. The reporting party states that the vehicle is all over the road, they believe the operator is either impaired or having a medical emergency. As the officers are catching up to the red ford, the reporting party is giving updating information such as location and what actions the red ford is taking. Once the officers catch up to the red ford, they use the reporting party’s description of events to pull the red ford over immediately without observing any traffic violation. Although no traffic violation was observed by the officers, it is important the officer pull the vehicle over as soon as possible to better reduce the chances of a major crash. If the operator of the red ford was impaired by alcohol or drugs, they are subject to arrest, or if they had a medical emergency, officers could get them the help they need.

What is the first thing a driver should do during a traffic stop?

What is a Moving Traffic Violation and How Long Does it Stay on Your Record road

What is the first thing a driver should do during a traffic stop?

The first thing you should do when you see an officer behind you with their emergency lights/sirens is to put your right directional (blinker) on. This demonstrates to the officer that you plan on slowing down and pulling over. If it is a hazardous place to stop, most states ask that you slow down and put your hazard lights on until you can find a safe place to stop.

Where Do Officers Recommend Doing During a Traffic Stop?

After you come to a complete stop on the side of the road, there are a couple of things you should do. If it is nighttime, it is always appreciated to turn on your interior lights as a way of illuminating the interior of the vehicle. If you have automatic windows, you should roll your window down and then place your hands on the steering wheel and wait. Although this may seem like forever, don’t reach over and grab anything quite yet, just sit there and wait. Once the officer approaches your window or the passenger side, listens to their instructions to gently grab (don’t use jerking or quick movements) the required documents (license, registration, and insurance.) While the officer is back at their cruiser, remain in the neutral position and wait until the officer returns. The officer will advise you of the action they took (fine, criminal charges, written warning, or verbal warning) and advise you that you are free to leave. Once safe to do so, you may put your left directional (blinker) on and merge back into traffic, you do not need to wait for the officer to leave first.

Why Do Police Touch the Back of Your Car?

Although police officers are not required to touch the back of the vehicle, they may choose to focused on two core reasons. First, they are leaving their fingerprint/Trace DNA on the back of the vehicle. This is to better identify the vehicle/operator if the officer ends up being shot/hurt or the vehicle takes off in the middle of the motor vehicle stop. The second reason is to keep the officer in a series of preventative safety checks, reminding themselves to check the vehicle make, model, number of occupants and their surroundings.

Does A Cop Have to Tell You Why They Pulled You Over Before Asking for an I.D.?

Most states (if not all) do NOT require an officer to tell you why they pulled you over before asking for identification. Although many officers will elect to advise the operator on why they were pulled over to help streamline the process, they are not required too. Officers can choose to wait until they have received the required documents (license, registration, and insurance) before advising the operator of why they were pulled over. There are pros and cons to both approaches. I have found that explaining to the operator why they were pulled over first is the better method at gaining the operators cooperation and respect.

Does The Operator Have to Give Their ID During the Traffic Stop?

What is a Moving Traffic Violation and How Long Does it Stay on Your Record operator

Does The Operator Have to Give Their ID During the Traffic Stop?

Yes, identifying yourself is a requirement of any motor vehicle stop. Operators are required to have the required documentation (license, registration, and insurance) on their person or inside the vehicle (readily available) while operating a motor vehicle on a public way. If you refuse to identify yourself, you may be subject to an arrest.

Do passengers have to show their id in a traffic stop?

This is very state dependent and will be based off whether the passenger has committed a motor vehicle infraction or not. The two main infractions officers usually cite passengers for are seatbelt violations and littering laws. The authority will be based off the laws in the state you were pulled over in, not in the state your vehicle is registered too. In some states, passengers are required to identify themselves or are subject to an arrest. Some states allow officers to cite the operator if the passenger refuses to identify themselves while other states have no recourse if the passenger refuses to identify themselves.

Do Operators Have to Answer Questions by Officers After Being Pulled Over?

No, there is NO requirement that the operator must answer any questions asked by law enforcement. You can choose to produce the required documentation and then remain silent. The required documentation will have all of the information needed to properly identify yourself and complete the stop.

How Long Can Police Detain You on a Traffic Stop?

There is no maximum time frame of how long an officer is allowed to detain an individual during a traffic stop. The courts have ruled that an operator should only be detained for as long as it takes to address the underlining reason for the stop. If a motorist is pulled over for failing to stop for a stop sign, the officer can check the operators/vehicle status, write a citation in a relatively short time and then must allow the operator to leave. An average motor vehicle stop from a veteran officer should be between 5-10 minutes but rarely more than 15. With the advancement in computer generated tickets, and automatic RMV license/registration transfers, these timeframes are becoming shorter. A verbal warning may be as quick as two (2) minutes from start to finish. Absent criminal activity, it would be hard to justify a motor vehicle stop taking longer than 15 minutes from when the operator safely pulls over to the side of the road. However, a motor vehicle stop involving a crime or suspected criminal activity may take significantly longer. If officers have reasonable suspicion, they may detain motorist to await a drug sniffing dog (K9) or search the vehicle on probable cause. These incidents will be on a case-by-case basis and do not have a maximum timeframe.

When would a traffic stop require Miranda warnings?

When an officer pulls you over for a motor vehicle infraction, they do not need to advise you or your passenger of your Miranda warnings. Although you are detained, you are not considered in “police custody”. If the stop results in a criminal inquiry or charges, it may amount to the level of Miranda warnings. Read more about Miranda Warnings; detained vs arrested.

What Happens If You Get Pulled Over without Your license on You?

What happens if I can’t pay my Impound fee, or the vehicle was permanently seized?

What Happens If You Get Pulled Over without Your license on You?

This is state dependent, but many states allow the officer to cite and/or arrest an individual who does not have their license on them. With the advancement of the DMV/RMV (department/register of motor vehicle) it is much easier to identify an operator who simply forgot their license at home. If you forgot or misplaced your license, it is best to cooperate with the officer by giving your name, birthday, social security and the state your license is active in. Most of the time, the operator will leave with a written citation or written/verbal warning after being positively identified as officers don’t want to arrest for such a trivial matter. If you have an active license in one state, all states will accept it as being properly licensed.

If you misplaced your licensed with your wallet/important ID’s/cards, check here on how to protect your identity from identity theft.

What Happens If You Get Pulled Over without a license or Expired License?

If an operator is pulled over with an expired license or never obtained one, they are subject to an arrest. An officer may choose to seek a summons for you to go to court or arrest. The officer will make their decision based off the operator’s criminal history, demeanor during the stop, and circumstances for the original stop. If the officer chooses to summon the operator to court, the officer will not let them drive away without first reinstating their license (Most licenses can be re-activated online within 5 minutes). If you are able to reinstate your license on scene, the officer may give you a warning. If not, the office may allow the vehicle to be parked on the side of the road or have someone with a valid drivers license come pick up the vehicle. If it is a dangerous area, or your vehicle is involved in an accident, officers may have to tow/impound your vehicle – What Happens When Your Vehicle is Impounded by Police? 

What Happens If You Get Pulled Over with a Suspended/revoked license?

If an operator is pulled over with a suspended/revoked license, they are subject to an arrest. Operating with a suspended/revoked license is similar to operating with no license or an expired license mentioned above. The key difference is that the RMV won’t allow you to renew your license until you fix the underlining cause for the suspension.

What Happens If You Get Pulled Over without Insurance?

Depending on the state that you are pulled over in, operating without proper insurance may result in you facing criminal charges and the vehicle being impounded by the police. Not all states require insurance, meaning if you were pulled over in a state not requiring insurance, then you would be free to go.

How long Does a Motor Vehicle Citation Stay on Your Insurance Record?

When it comes to insurance, they are governed by the state your vehicle is registered in. Most states give you (points) on your driving record for a period of 2-7 years, meaning you will be hit with a higher insurance rate. Not all citations will affect your insurance rate. If you receive a ticket, be sure to look up your state laws and regulations on the cited violations.

Mopeds, Bicycles, Motorcycles and ATV's

What is a Moving Traffic Violation and How Long Does it Stay on Your Record moped

Mopeds, Bicycles, Motorcycles and ATV's

Any motorized vehicle such as mopeds, motorcycles and al-terrain vehicles (ATV) will be subject to RMV approval before they are allowed on public ways. Each state is deferent on what they will allow to be operated on the public roads (After they are properly registered of course.) Mopeds and motorcycles are always allowed, but dirt bikes, snow mobiles and ATV’s will be subject to RMV approval of the state you are registering it in. Each stated will also impose restrictions on where you can drive (highways) and time restrictions such as by months (Snow mobiles between December and March) or hours of the day (no mopeds between 1 AM and 5 AM) Bicycles can be also be pulled over by officers for violating traffic laws, and guess what they can also be arrested!

Can All Law Enforcement Officers Pull You Over?

Although the typical state or local police officer are the ones who are actively enforcing traffic violations, other law enforcement entities have the ability to conduct traffic stops. College/university police, Sheriff, MBTA/transit police all fall into those categories. Each organization will have different authorization, but these dedicated police officers would be able to conduct motor vehicle stops on infractions in direct relation to their work or field. For example, a university officer could only conduct motor vehicles on school grounds, while the Transit police could conduct motor vehicle stops on their property.

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By Branden

Branden is a Police Lieutenant who has investigated numerous crimes. He has written and executed multiple search warrants, conducted various protective sweeps, pat frisks and exit orders. He has been involved in numerous police vehicle chases, fights, disturbances, foot pursuits, suspect/hostage negotiations and felony stops. He is trained with an assortment of weapons. He has spoken with countless victims, witnesses and suspects and is using his experience to better protect our communities and loved ones by sharing his knowledge through his writings.

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