Traffic Stops

Traffic stop: check your knowledge


During a traffic stop, officers go through almost every emotion imaginable, from the moment they activate their blue lights until the stop has reached its end. They never know what to expect. Is the driver wanted for a crime? Is he carrying dangerous drugs or other contraband? Is he armed? The list goes on.

Police academy instructors teach recruits how to be safe. They set up mock exercises simulating every possible scenario that officers could encounter once they hit the streets.  New officers are taught to do certain things when making traffic stops. The officer in the picture above has positioned her patrol car on an angle to the roadway. She has her left hand on the trunk of the car. She’s looking ahead at the passing car while keeping the driver in her line of vision. She’s standing a certain way. Actually, it appears that she’s doing everything right. Good for her because she had no idea a photographer was behind her. We were pretty sneaky.

Now it’s time to put the shoe on the other foot.  I’m asking each of you to tell me why the officer has decided to do the things she’s done. Remember, she wants to go home at the end of her shift.

15 replies
  1. BeckyLevine
    BeckyLevine says:


    I think you hit it in your last reply. The heart-pounder is what we’re trying for when we write. And the more information about how that feels we have, the more we “get” it, and the better we can write the scene. Also, having ALL the details lets us pick the one or two that really resonate with us, which means they’re going to feel solid, believable, and scary on the page. Right there–tension!

  2. Lee
    Lee says:

    Jennie – No, you certainly can’t fill a work of fiction full of boring police facts. But it helps to have the correct information when you use it.

    Peg – You are so right. The unknowns are real heart-pounders.

  3. Peg H
    Peg H says:

    Chiming in late…better late than never?

    She speaks to the driver to assess his sobriety. Her feet are clear of the car’s path in case the driver slams it into reverse.

    All the while, she’s running scenarios through her head; Is the driver sober? Drunk? On drugs? Dangerous? Is he nervous? Will the driver be angry? Every what if she’s ever had or heard is playing. Her adrenaline levels are on high.

    Did I ever tell you that I’ve always hated pop quizzes?…. 😉

  4. JennieB
    JennieB says:

    Lots of lovely information! Great if you’re trying to get into the head of a protagonist when you’re writing, if – like me – you’re someone who’s never done a ride-along or been through the police academy. Unfortunately, if you tried to squeeze it all into the narrative of a book, you’d probably be accusing of info-dumping…

  5. Lee
    Lee says:

    Think about how officers feel when stopping a car with dark-tinted windows at night on a deserted road. They can’t tell if the driver has a gun pointed at them or not. It’s an awful feeling.

  6. pabrown
    pabrown says:

    You’re right, there’s a lot to a ‘simple’ traffic stop. Some of it I would have thought of, but a lot I wouldn’t. It only increases my respect for police officers.

  7. Bill Cameron
    Bill Cameron says:

    Her car is angled in such a way that if it gets rear-ended, it won’t be pushed directly into the stopped car and her, and will provide a shield from behind if needed.

  8. Lee
    Lee says:

    So far, everyone has been on target with their answers. I’ll add a few more.

    She’s standing with her gun side away from the driver of the car. This allows her a free hand to use her weapon if she needs to. Also, it prevents the driver from taking her weapon.

    Standing short of the driver’s door makes him turn around to face her. This keeps the driver in an awkward position if he intended to shoot. He’d have a difficult shot from that position.

    Stopping where she did gives her view of the entire interior of the car.

    She can easily retreat if she needs to do so.

    By touching the car she left her fingerprints. If the driver did manage to shoot and kill the officer authorities would be able to prove that this was the vehicle in question by lifting the officer’s prints.

    Any more?

  9. quillracer
    quillracer says:

    Her cruiser is angled so that if she needs to take cover behind the driver’s door, she will also have the car’s engine block between her and the black car.

    She has her hand on the trunk to make sure it is shut, not just resting in a closed position because another person is hiding in it ready to jump out and attack her. She’s using her left hand to keep her right hand free to draw her weapon, should she need to.

    She’s watching the white car in case it is driven by an accomplice to the black car’s driver and she’s watching that car’s driver to catch any sudden threatening moves on his part.

    Is she standing sideways for her own safety in case another car coming from the direction of the picture would try to sideswipe her?

  10. Lee
    Lee says:

    Good answers, Vicki. But there are more reasons for her actions. Many more.

    Who would have thought that officers had so much to think about when they make a “simple” traffic stop?

  11. Vicki Lane
    Vicki Lane says:

    Love this site!

    I’m guessing the officer’s car is parked as it is so if the person she’s stopped takes off, she can pursue quickly. And she’s standing clear of the driver’s door so it couldn’t be opened suddenly to knock her down. Is she standing side on, to present a smaller target, were the driver to take a notion to shoot at her?

  12. Lee
    Lee says:

    Joyce, why don’t you save that post for one of the many times you’ll be guest blogging? Hint, hint. 🙂

    Perhaps you’d like to invite your folks over at Working Stiffs to take this little quiz.

  13. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    I’ll disqualify myself on this one, since I already know the answers. It’ll be interesting to see how everyone does.

    btw, Lee, if you want to use my DUI stop post from Working Stiffs, you’re more than welcome to it.

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