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This Is What a Traffic Cop First Notices About You

You only get one chance to make a good first impression.

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Woman pulled over by policekali9/Getty Images

The wrong kind of attention

Have you ever wondered why a police officer chose to pull you over? Or why they decided to give you a ticket rather than let you off with a warning? It turns out these decisions aren’t arbitrary. From the condition of your car to how polite you are, there are things traffic cops notice that could impact your chances of getting a ticket. Here’s what you need to know to get on their good side from the get-go. Also, just FYI, this is the strictest U.S. state on speeding.

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If you’re distracted

Distracted driving is illegal in 48 states and Puerto Rico, and it will get you pulled over. Of course, using a cell phone certainly qualifies and is a common cause of it—and in a state like Washington, it’s illegal to hold a phone at all while you’re driving, regardless of whether or not you’re using it. But this term also includes eating, putting on makeup, and even fidgeting with your navigation system. The reason for this is simple: Distracted driving kills nine people and injures 1,000 more in accidents every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Don’t test your luck or endanger yourself or anyone else by engaging in these behaviors on the road. Police are watching for it—and with good reason. Here are 7 tricks to make yourself stop texting and driving.

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car with scratchesmyibean/Getty Images

What kind of car you drive

In a perfect world, the kind of car you drive wouldn’t matter, but in real life, it does. Plus, there are things that will get you a speeding ticket besides speeding. Harold Hillard, a retired police officer from Plano, Texas, says police officers pay attention not only to how you’re driving but also what you’re driving. And we hate to break the news to you, but he says that people with beat-up cars are more likely to get pulled over. Why? Because those cars tend to have other issues as well, like expired tags and broken windshields.

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Police officer making a traffic stopkali9/Getty Images

If you’re a threat

If you get pulled over, the officer will ask you for your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. Sergeant Gary Holsten of the South Brunswick Police Department’s Traffic Safety Bureau in New Jersey says you should not initiate reaching for these items on your own to help ensure you aren’t perceived as a threat. “Wait until the officer asks,” he advises. “Otherwise, keep your hands on the steering wheel. [This] will help the officer in assessing any possible safety issues inside the car—things that are being hidden or could be utilized as weapons.” Here are another 45 things police officers want you to know.

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Driver Opening Glovebox CompartmentAndreyPopov/Getty Images

Your level of organization

If you’re organized, the officer will feel more comfortable with your interaction. Again, remember that the officer is constantly assessing the safety of the situation. This doesn’t just mean looking for weapons and other threats; it also means making sure their own body is positioned safely while standing on the side of the road exposed to traffic.

“If you have your documents together, it will eliminate your feverously searching through multiple locations in your car,” explains Holsten. “The more places you are searching, the more you will be shifting your body in the car. The officer’s line of sight into your vehicle is limited to start, and this will most likely cause the officer to have to alter his positioning, causing them to be in a more exposed location to passing traffic. If you have your documents handy, you’re limiting the officer’s exposure time to passing traffic and the amount of time he has to be assessing the overall situation.” Eliminate this potential problem by getting your car organized now; it could save you a lot of grief in the future.

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Policewoman interrogating a manMark Hunt/Getty Images

How forthcoming you are

What if there’s an issue with one of your documents—and you know it? Don’t get weird about it or try to hide it. “If you know you have an issue with one of the required documents like insurance, driver’s license, or registration, it is best to tell the officer straight away,” says Holsten. “Evasive behavior dealing with paperwork may cause heightened concern that the driver is hiding more than paperwork issues.” Translation: You’re not fooling anyone. Officers are trained to pick up on behavior, and they will know that something’s up immediately.

To avoid this situation in the first place, don’t make these 13 subtle driving mistakes that could get you pulled over.

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Police Officer Making Traffic StopRyanJLane/Getty Images

Your honesty

It may be tempting to lie to an officer to try to wriggle your way out of a ticket, but Holsten says this isn’t a good idea. “Most officers appreciate when a motorist is honest during a car stop,” he says. In other words, being honest—with whatever is going on—may help you get off to a good start with an officer. Plus, lying to an officer is against the law and may lead to getting you into more trouble than you were to begin with. After all, lies have a way of unraveling and becoming unwieldy as you try to keep up with them. This isn’t the only time when honesty is the best policy. These are 12 things you should never lie about.

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African policeman giving woman ticketJose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images

Whether you’re polite (or not)

Being rude is always frowned upon, but during a traffic stop, it can actually increase your chances of getting a ticket. “Being polite is something that can only help the driver,” says Holsten. “If an officer is met with someone yelling at them or making demands, it only prolongs their exposure roadside and is maybe another indicator that the driver is trying to distract the officer with their rude or discourteous behavior. You being belligerent during the stop will most likely not increase your chances of leaving the stop with a simple warning.” You can also try to beat a speeding ticket with these magic words.

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Police Officer Making Traffic StopRyanJLane/Getty Images

How appropriate you are

There’s a time and a place for everything—and the time for arguing whether or not you deserve a ticket is not while an officer is standing exposed to dangerous oncoming traffic on the side of the road. “Drivers that decide they want to argue their case roadside are choosing the wrong venue. Schedule your court date and argue the case to the judge,” says Holsten. “Attempting to argue with the officer will only cause them more time exposed to traffic roadside.” In other words, arguing about the merits of a ticket is a surefire way to make a bad impression and will likely earn you a ticket for your efforts. Here are more things you should never say to a police officer.

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Smoking while driving a carFajrul Islam/Getty Images

The smells wafting from your car

In the states where marijuana is illegal, if a police officer smells the unmistakable odor of cannabis in your car, they can often use it as probable cause to search your car without getting a warrant. People who live in states where cannabis has been legalized aren’t necessarily off the hook. Driving under the influence of marijuana is still illegal, and cannabis is also illegal if you’re under the age of 21. Next, find out what police officers don’t want you to know.

Tamara Gane
Tamara Gane is a regular contributor to Reader's Digest. She's a travel expert who takes an average of 30-40 trips a year and covers vacation destinations, luggage, road trips, air travel, and hotels.