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March 2012 How To Survive!

Posted in Features on March 1, 2012
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There’s something we can all agree to hate. No, not lime-flavored beer, but it ranks a close second. We’re talking about looking in the rearview mirror and seeing The Man. What should you do? Can you get out of a ticket? Is your Jeep a cop magnet? We picked the badge, er, brain of Public Information Officer Leland Tang with the California Highway Patrol for the dos and don’ts when dealing with law enforcement. Although he’s based in California, much of his info and advice should translate to where you live, too.

• You just got lit up. OK! Time to panic and veer across multiple lanes of traffic to the shoulder or the curb as quickly as possible, right? “You should acknowledge the officer by putting on your right-turn indicator. Then do it one lane at a time, when you feel it’s safe, not how you think the officer wants it,” said Officer Tang.

• If you’re on the freeway, most officers actually prefer you exit rather than head for the shoulder.

• Once you’re pulled over, leave everything as is: seatbelt on, engine running, and throw the tranny in Park. “We don’t want them getting out of the Jeep.” Further, Officer Tang recommends that you put your hands on the steering wheel rather than trying to be helpful and have your registration at the ready. “We understand their intentions are good, but for us our critical moments are in the first minute or two when we get out of our car and walk up to their car. We don’t want anyone making sudden movements.”

• Officer Tang also suggested that you roll down your passenger-side window for when the officer approaches. If it’s dark outside, switch on the cabin light so he can see how many people are stuffed into your Jeep.

• Ever left the house without your license? Don’t worry, it’s not a go-directly-to-jail moment. All you need to provide is your name and date of birth, although this process will take a bit longer than if you had your license on you. What if the license is in the backseat, cargo area, or out of arm’s reach? Just let the officer know that’s the deal, and he’ll probably ask you to exit the Jeep. (If you pulled over to the shoulder on the freeway, expect to be asked to exit via the passenger side; always limber up before driving is the moral here). Once you and the officer are at the location of the goods, “Narrate what you’re doing,” explained Officer Tang. “Like, ‘I’m going to go into this bag to grab my wallet.’ It reaffirms you understand the danger of the job and that you’re mindful of their safety.” You may feel silly doing the voiceover of your life’s every movement, but as you’ll soon learn, treat an officer well and he might pay it forward. Or backward. Whichever one is about getting out of a ticket.

• Is there a correct answer to: “Do you know why I pulled you over?” While not all officers ask that, Officer Tang told us, “We actually do ask that. The reason why is because it will determine the level of honesty. The typical response is, ‘Uh, no, I don’t know what I was doing wrong,’ and when someone says that, it indicates to us that they know what they did was wrong and don’t want to admit it.” On the other hand, if the question is, “Do you know how fast you were going,” and you say, “I don’t know,” the officer is likely to view you and your excessive speed as a danger to yourself and others.

• If you’re nabbed for speeding? “The worst excuse we always get is, ‘I have to go to the bathroom.’” So, put your plan-B excuse into action starting … now. “Honesty is so rare. If you’re in the minority and respect an officer with your honesty, you have a higher probability of not getting a citation. Saying, ‘I’m so sorry, I looked down and couldn’t believe I was going that fast, I just didn’t know’ at least acknowledges the reason for the stop and the error of your way.”

• So, is a red Jeep a cop magnet? “Originally, this whole red-vehicles-get-more-citations-than-others was based on a study that said when we’re monitoring vehicles, we’re looking for the one that stands out. Somebody took that literally and said, ‘Well, red vehicles stand out and therefore will get more tickets.’ In actuality, they don’t.”

• But when could a Jeep be a cop magnet? Sit down for this one: when the suspension has been modified. “Jeeps are in a very weird category. Some Jeeps have a cargo area that opens to the sky, like a pickup truck does, right? Because they are like a truck in that way, they are categorized as such. People get stuck on the whole thing about weight, but if the cargo area is not exposed, it is therefore not a truck by definition.” The definition Officer Tang referred to is within the California Vehicle Code bylines. He added that Cherokees, Grand Wagoneers, and other permanent-hardhat Jeeps that have a lift based on a truck’s inch laws are technically illegal because those Jeeps actually fall within the passenger-car’s inch laws. If you chop the top off, say, your Cherokee and it now has an exposed cargo area, you’re in the truck realm and can lift to those laws.

• Is it common practice in California to pull over a lifted Jeep based on those guidelines? “Now you’re banking on the knowledge of the officer.” As in there’s a chance he may not be fluent in that law. Then there’s the other chance.

• One other thing about suspension and also about lighting: When it comes to measuring whether you’re within the legal lift limit, Cali’s vehicle code stipulates that the measurement be taken from ground to frame, not at the crossmember. Head over to the SEMA Action Network at for vehicle modification info for your state, or contact them directly if you need more info. And join SAN while you’re there.

• What about big rubber? Again, for California, you can have oversized tires that go beyond the wheelwell as long as you have a mudflap just for the rear tires. “Mudflaps don’t have to go to the ground, contrary to popular belief. They just need to cover at least 51 percent of the tread.”

• And there are two types of citations you could get: fix-it or a regular ticket. Fix-it is simply a matter of showing proof that you fixed what you were written up for (and there will be a court processing fee of probably $25-$35), while the citation will have a fine involved that is likely three-figures painful.

• In short, be nice to the officer and you might find that pull-over results in a crisis of only miniscule proportions.


State of California Department of Highway Patrol

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