Do you know what to do when a police officer pulls you over? NC has new guidelines.

Do you know what to do when a police officer pulls you over? NC has new guidelines.

RALEIGH, N.C. (Richard Stradling | The News and Observer) - When you get pulled over by a police officer, should you get your car registration out of the glove box and have it ready when he gets to your window?

If you're supposed to keep your hands on the wheel, where should your passengers put theirs?

What should you do if there's not a good, safe place to pull over?

Updated answers to these and many other questions about what to do when you see blue lights in your rear-view mirror will appear in the newest version of the state driver license handbook out this year.

The General Assembly ordered the Division of Motor Vehicles to revise its guidelines for traffic stops and directed the state Department of Public Instruction to include the guidelines in the driver's education curriculum taught to high school students.

Rep. Ken Goodman, one of four main sponsors of the bill, says he introduced it to try to prevent misunderstandings that can turn a routine traffic stop into a confrontation. Goodman said he was inspired to draft the bill after watching a story on the evening news about a traffic stop that resulted in a shooting.

"I thought, 'People just don't know what you're supposed to do,' " said Goodman, a Democrat from Rockingham. "I just think that it could save lives of drivers or police officers or both."

The DMV has had guidelines for traffic stops in its handbook since at least 1972. But the bill gave the agency a chance to update and revise them with the help of law enforcement agencies. The General Assembly directed DMV to consult the State Highway Patrol, the N.C. Sheriff's Association and the N.C. Association of Chiefs of Police.

The goal was to make the guidelines practical, easy to understand and intuitive, said Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president and general counsel of the sheriff's association.

"We wanted to be as simplistic as possible, because we knew that drivers would not be reading the handbook in the middle of the traffic stop," Caldwell said. "So the idea is you would read it and it would be instruction that was relatively commonsensical and easy to remember."

At the same time, there's more context and explanation than before. The new guidelines not only list what to do and not do, but also why and what to expect from the officer.

For example, the old guidelines say, "If at night, activate the vehicle's interior light." The new entry reads: "If it is nighttime, the officer may direct a spotlight at your vehicle once stopped. To assist with visibility, turn on your interior lights as soon as you stop to help the officer see inside your vehicle."

"If you compare the previous version to the new version, you will see that there was room for improvement," Caldwell said.

Some of the police shootings that have made headlines and prompted demonstrations across the country in recent years began with traffic stops. In one particularly high-profile case in July 2016, police officer Jeronimo Yanez shot and killed Philando Castile as Castile was reaching for his wallet during a traffic stop in suburban Minneapolis that was recorded by Castile's girlfriend.

Castile had told the officer that he was licensed to carry a gun and had one with him. Yanez testified that he thought Castile was reaching for it when he fired seven shots into the car. Yanez was acquitted by a jury.

Law enforcement officers are often reminded of the dangers of a seemingly routine traffic stop. Within a week in November, a state trooper in Texas and a local police officer in Western Pennsylvania were killed by motorists they had pulled over.

The new guidelines reflect the heightened tensions surrounding interactions between law enforcement officers and the public. Rep. Beverly Earle, one of the bill's main sponsors, describes herself as "old school" and inclined to reach for her purse to get her license and registration as the officer approaches her car.

"You don't do that anymore," said Earle, a Democrat from Charlotte. The new guidelines say that if the license and registration aren't readily available to wait for the officer to ask you to get them out.

"If you respond appropriately, everybody may go home at the end of the day," Earle said.

The new guidelines will appear in the new edition of the handbook that will be available on the DMV's website and in driver's license offices across the state.

As for those questions at the top of this article, here they are again with the answers:

  • When you get pulled over by a police officer, should you get your car registration out of the glove box and have it ready when he gets to your window? No. The officer won’t know what you’re trying to get from the glove box. Wait until he or she asks for your registration.
  • If you’re supposed to keep your hands on the wheel, where should your passengers put theirs? Passengers should keep their hands where an officer can see them. Front-seat passengers can keep their hands on their lap. Back-seat passengers should put their hands on the seat in front of them.
  • What should you do if there’s not a good, safe place to pull over? Turn on your flashers and slow down about 10 mph to signal to the officer that you plan to pull over. Then look for the first safe place to do it on the right side of the road.