Beaufort News

That ‘hypothetical’ moment when blue lights crash the party on a busy Beaufort street

What to do when police pull you over

A Raleigh video about what motorists should expect when stopped says you should answer all questions from an officer. But the state's driver's license handbook points out you are not legally required to answer questions after identifying yourself.
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A Raleigh video about what motorists should expect when stopped says you should answer all questions from an officer. But the state's driver's license handbook points out you are not legally required to answer questions after identifying yourself.

Most of life’s most teachable moments come during the most unexpected of times.

When you notice blue lights in your rearview mirror on a busy street in the middle of a sunny afternoon might be one of those times.

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

It’s then, with your child in a car seat in the back seat of your truck, that you have to make that decision to be a law-abiding citizen or make a run for it. The thought of you and your toddler together on wanted posters — you with 5 o’clock shadow and him with his sippy cup like some sort of bandits — does seem fun.

But this isn’t Hazzard County and the truck isn’t that fast anymore and it’s probably not Roscoe or Cletus on your tail. So you do the honorable thing and pull over, hoping your child will pay attention to the correct way to handle misdemeanors as an adult.

“This is what we do in America, son” you envision your speech to your child beginning, ending with “don’t tell your mother about this,” and reminding him of all the good things you’ve done for him.

But before you can even get the speech in your head verbalized, the next hardest decision inevitably comes upon you — where do you safely pull over? If you’re on Bay Street in Beaufort heading west, you can maybe pull into the lot at Beaufort Elementary School.

Yes, everyone driving by on Bay will see you. Those who know your truck will know it’s you, even without your window rolled down. You might even start to wonder why you’ve put all those recognizable tiger paws all over your vehicle, but if you didn’t, would everyone in traffic know Clemson has won three national championships?

Your child might start asking questions about why you’ve suddenly stopped, and you may even have second thoughts about pulling into a school parking lot, because surely some passersby will think you’ve tried to steal playground equipment.

When the officer tells you he pulled you because your tag is expired, you can play it off as if you didn’t know. That might sometimes be because you legitimately didn’t know. You’re busy, and sometimes little things like bills escape you. It’s not evasion, just ... inattention to detail.

In this “hypothetical” situation just described, you take your traffic ticket, wait for the officer to drive away, and sit for half an hour for any other motorists who might have seen you to clear.

But what if you’re not like me, or, um, this “situation?” What if you were pulled for speeding or distracted driving or failing to yield, or any one of the hundred possibilities we have for poor motoring here?

Conway K9 officer Gary Mahaffey gives viewers a look inside his police cruiser at all the tools officers use to do their jobs on a daily basis.

Sergeant Patrick Schmucker of the Beaufort Police Department advises that “the best way to avoid a traffic ticket is to abide by the laws.”

Short of that, however, there are some things you can be aware of when you mess up. There are long stretches on Ribaut Road and Sea Island Parkway and other places in Beaufort where it might be inconvenient to park, but you have to look for a spot that doesn’t block emergency lanes or endanger you or the officer.

“It’s your safety and our safety,” said Sgt. Schmucker. “Find somewhere safe to pull over.”

If that means it’s a church parking lot on a Sunday morning and you run the risk of looking like you tried to make off with the collection plates, that’s still better than putting it in park in the middle of the road. And you can always slow down so that the officer knows you’re trying to comply.

You can even stick your hand out the window to let the police know you see them, but make sure you use all of your fingers.

Once stopped, wait for the officer to approach the vehicle and identify himself or herself before fumbling around for the license and registration.

Those are the courteous things to do, of course. And if you do stop in a spot that an officer deems unsafe for traffic, the officer will ask you to move. Sometimes they might even use the PA to tell you, so make sure to turn down the NPR.

If your “hypothetical” situation doesn’t involve having a child in the back seat, or occur on a well-traveled street in Beaufort, it doesn’t mean you can’t still do the right thing and obey the law. Just make sure you pay your vehicle tax.

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