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Getting pulled over? Know your rights

You were driving a little recklessly, and you were aware of it. You had too much to drink, but you didn't want to stop. Now, you're seeing flashing lights in your mirror and know you've been caught.

If you're pulled over, you need to know your rights. Taking the right steps now could prevent an arrest or DUI charge in some cases.

What should you do first?

First, if you see flashing lights, that doesn't automatically mean that you have to stop then and there. Before you pull over, slow down and look for a safe spot to do so. If you can't pull over safely, give the officer a signal, like waving your hand, so he or she knows you intend to stop but are waiting for a safe place to do so. Pull over as soon as possible.

An officer may ask you to get out of your vehicle as a precaution for his or her safety. This is primarily to make sure you don't have any weapons. You have a right to refuse getting out of your vehicle, but it may be better to do as asked if there's no reason to do otherwise. It helps prevent the situation from becoming tense or aggravated. If the officer believes you're intoxicated, he or she may ask you to perform field sobriety tests. He or she has probable cause at that point.

Finally, remember that officers may only search your vehicle if they have probable cause or a warrant. He may see something in plain view, which gives him a right to investigate. If he thinks you've been drinking and sees a beer in your cup holder, that may give him probable cause as well. There are a few other situations in which it's legal for an officer to search your vehicle, but if there's no reason for him to do so, then he shouldn't be doing so without a warrant.

Know your rights when you're pulled over. Stay quiet, don't do anything to incriminate yourself and remember to stay calm. Our site has more on what to do if you're facing an arrest or charge.

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