Virginia Reckless Driving Stops at Night
If an individual is being pulled over by law enforcement, the first thing they should do is to ascertain whether the vehicle they are being pulled over by is a marked law enforcement vehicle. Especially at night, safety is the primary concern. If an individual is being pulled over, such as for reckless driving, it is important to find a safe area—preferably a parking lot or a wide shoulder—to pull over and stop the vehicle. During this period of time, it is essential to put the vehicle in park or turn off the vehicle, depending on what the driver feels is the safest thing to do. The driver should leave their lights on for their safety and the officer’s safety.
If it is easily accessible and the officer has not yet approached the vehicle, you should feel safe to open the glove box and retrieve your vehicle’s registration. If however you are a concealed carrier holder and have a weapon in your vehicle, it is important to not make any sudden movements or reaching for your glove box. It will be evident to the officer making the traffic stop and they may be extra cautious.
Interacting With Law Enforcement
When an officer approaches the vehicle, it is important to roll down the window completely in order to talk with the officer. It is not in the driver’s best interests to try to roll their window down partially or simply crack the window. The driver should then comply with any reasonable instructions by the law enforcement officer. There are certain requests that an individual may feel free to decline, however, most notably requests to perform field sobriety tests and take a preliminary breath test (or PBT).
When the officer approaches the vehicle, first expect that the officer will be very cautious and perhaps even anxious. The instructions they give may seem harsh or very direct, given the potentially minor nature of the traffic infraction. It is important to understand that law enforcement officers are extremely nervous and anxious when they approach a vehicle for the first time. They don’t know who may be inside and whether or not they have a weapon, are angry or aggressive, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Therefore the police are often very cautious.
The safest place to put your hands when the officer approaches the vehicle is on the steering wheel. This way the officer can see your hands, you know the officer can see your hands, and the tension for any confrontation is certainly reduced.
A person is free to ask the officer any questions as long as they don’t appear to interfere with the officer’s official duties. It is perfectly reasonable to ask for the reason for the stop. If it is a speeding case, it is perfectly reasonable to ask the officer how he or she determined the person’s speed and how fast he or she concluded that they were going.
In Virginia, the officer is not obligated to show you the results of her RADAR or LIDAR equipment, although many officers will let you know the results or they may show you the results if you request it in a polite and courteous manner.
License, Insurance, and Registration
The officer will ask the driver to produce their license and registration. In Virginia, a driver is not required to produce a copy of their insurance data, but if the driver has it with the license and registration that is fine. The officer may then ask some follow-up questions regarding the reason for the stop.
Expect that the officer will take the driver’s license, insurance, and registration back to his or her police cruiser, verify that information through their onboard computer system and use the information to complete the Virginia Uniform Summons if they are being cited for a traffic violation.
The officer will most likely ask the driver if they know the reason for the stop, and additional questions such as asking if the driver was aware of his or her speed, if they knew they ignored a stop sign, or other similar questions.
The officer asks these questions to try to elicit responses against the driver’s interests. For example, in a speeding case the officer may ask, “Do you know how fast you were going? Do you know why I pulled you over?” These questions are asked to elicit a response that shows that the driver was aware that they were violating a traffic law.
An officer may also ask questions simply to get the driver talking in order to determine whether they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This is especially true during nighttime stops or checkpoint stops. An officer asking questions is simultaneously trying to see if the driver is slurring words, answering the questions responsively, and if there is any odor of any alcoholic beverage, which may be on the driver or their vehicle.
Generally, a person needs to answer questions that are pertinent to the information that the officer would need to fill out a Virginia Uniform Summons. This means the driver needs to identify who they are, their address, and any other biographical information. The driver may politely decline to answer any further questions—especially questions that may incriminate them as to any offense. Questions that may be declined to answer include where an individual is coming from or where they are going if those places could involve alcohol or illegal activities. The driver may decline to answer questions regarding drinking, drug use, or other questions that may lead to further investigations.
Exiting the Vehicle
Never exit the vehicle during the course of a traffic stop unless expressly requested to do so by the law enforcement officer. This is because the law enforcement officials may view exiting the vehicle in a variety of different ways and none of them are in your best interests.
Law enforcement officers may view exiting your vehicle to be an aggressive maneuver, they may think that you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or they may think that you are doing something else that is unsafe. On that note, exiting your vehicle during the course of a traffic stop is a safety issue as you could be potentially walking into traffic—the traffic will certainly not expect someone to exit a vehicle.
Receiving a Ticket
In most cases, the officer will explain the code section and the instructions that are on the Virginia Uniform Summons. While the officer is still present, a person should certainly read the ticket, make sure that everything is clear, and ask any questions if they do not understand what is written. However, small issues—like getting a person’s height or weight wrong, or another small detail—while a person may feel that it is an oversight that may affect their case, it is probably not something worth arguing with the officer about.