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What to do if you’re pulled over

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Asked at Monday’s community meeting what an Evanston resident should do if they’re pulled over by police, Police Chief Richard Eddington offered an example of a recent off-duty encounter he had with police downstate.

Eddington said he was driving home from St. Louis in his personal car when “his cell phone blew up.”

He’d been sending email messages using the voice recognition device on his iPhone and “it didn’t quite get down what I’d said” and ended up sending message to elected officials that included “coarse language.”

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When he started getting replies questionning what he’d said, he realized “this had gone terribly wrong.” So he pulled over onto the shoulder of the highway and was in the middle of apologizing by email when “all of a sudden I see flashing lights go on behind me.”

“So I rolled down the driver’s side window, and the passenger window, too, because that’s the side state troopers come up on.”

“And I sit in the car, with my hands up on the steering wheel.”

“I don’t know what he thinks, I’m doing my level best to keep things calm.”

He said the officer asked what was the emergency that led him to pull off onto the shoulder, and when he said he was sending text messages, the officer suggested that wasn’t really an emergency and he should have pulled off the highway at the next exit ramp instead.

“Now I have some familiarity with the Illinois Vehicle Code, but I have no idea of his understanding,” Eddington said, suggesting getting into a discussion about it at the side of the road wouldn’t be a very good idea.

When you’re dealing with a police officer, “you don’t know what he’s been led to believe,” Eddington said. “Was he looking for a car that may have just been involved in an armed robbery? I have no idea.”

“Hopping out of the car in a situation that you’re not completely familiar with” is extremely risky, he added.


At the meeting at the Levy Center police also distributed reprints of a section of the state Rules of the Road handbook dealing with traffic stops. Here’s what that says:

Being Pulled Over by Law Enforcement

  • Slow down and pull over safely as soon as possible. If the police vehicle is unmarked and you cannot identify the driver as a police officer, drive slowly and carefully below the speed limit to a well-lighted, populated spot and pull over, or go to the nearest police station, attempt to attract the attention of a uniformed officer or call 911.
  • A law enforcement officer may approach your vehicle from the passenger or driver side of the vehicle.
  • Stay in the driver’s seat with both hands clearly in sight on the steering wheel until the officer instructs you otherwise or the traffic stop is complete. Do not exit your vehicle unless asked to do so. Getting out of your vehicle can be perceived as aggressive behavior and a threat to the officer’s safety. Turn on your interior light if stopped at night.
  • Comply with the officer’s request to see your driver’s license and proof of insurance. If these items are in the glove box, under the seat or if your proof of insurance is stored for display on your cellphone, inform the officer of that fact and then follow his/her directions before retrieving them.
  • If you are issued a ticket requiring a signature, sign it. Signing a ticket is not an admission of guilt — only an acknowledgment of receiving the ticket.
  • If you are suspected of drunk driving, cooperate with the officer(s) on the scene. If you refuse to submit to breath, blood or performance tests, your refusal could result in loss of driving privileges.
  • Be aware that you may have committed some minor traffic violation without realizing it, there may be some problem with your vehicle of which you are unaware or you might be driving a vehicle that is similar to one used in a serious crime. Many officers will not provide specific reasons for the stop until they have your license and insurance card in hand. Therefore, they will avoid having to debate the reason for the stop before they receive these items from you.
  • If you wish to offer an explanation of your circumstances when stopped, do so before the officer returns to his vehicle. The officer cannot void the ticket once it has been written. Cooperate during the incident even if you believe you have not committed an offense. If you believe you have been treated unfairly, present your case in traffic court and not to the officer along the roadway.
  • You are to be treated with dignity and respect by the officer. If you believe that an officer has acted inappropriately during a traffic stop or other encounter, you should report that conduct as soon as possible to the officer’s superiors.
  • Officers are required to provide their names and badge numbers upon request.

The handout from Evanston police added one more bullet point:

  • If you ever have questions or concerns about your interaction, either request that a supervisor respond to the scene or contact the Evanston Police Department at 847-866-5000.

Related stories

Chief outlines police procedure changes (1/31/17)

What should you do during a traffic stop (1/13/17)

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