Flashing lights in the rearview mirror is not a sight anyone wants to see. Whether it is a minor violation or something more serious, it is human nature to expect the worst.

It seems like any police encounter comes with many questions. You may already know that it is better to say as little as possible, but you also want to appear cooperative.

Here’s what you should know about what to (and not to) say when an officer asks questions.

They may have more information than you think

Unless you are driving someone else’s vehicle, the officer pulling you over can get a lot of information from your license plates. Often, during the time between pulling you over and walking to your vehicle, an officer will run your license plate number.

Running a license plate will give the officer information such as:

  • Owner’s name
  • Registration status of the vehicle
  • License status, including a suspended license
  • Make and model of the vehicle
  • Any outstanding criminal or driving charges against the owner, including warrants

Keep in mind that you have an obligation to show your driver’s license when you are driving. While there may be other questions that you do not want to answer, providing your license is a minimum requirement.

Cooperate without confessing

When an officer starts asking questions, you have a right not to answer, but how you use that right could influence the rest of the stop. For example, if you refuse to speak, the officer may view your lack of cooperation as a reason to believe you have something to hide.

If you do not want to answer the officer’s questions, you can simply state you are exercising your right not to answer or that you would like to speak to your attorney. When you are polite but firm about exercising your rights, the officer understands what you are doing and that you are not a threat to their safety.

Typically, the less information you offer when an officer pulls you over and starts asking questions, the fewer options they have when it is time to file charges. In many cases, officers will have greater respect for someone asserting their rights if they are polite and cooperative.

Every stop by the police is treated by the courts on a case-by-case basis, so cooperation with regard to your basic identifiers like your name and date of birth is often reasonable. Beyond that, you may tell the officer that you do not want to answer further questions without a lawyer present.