At a time when many of us are still trying to burn off all that high-calorie Christmas joy, the season of renewal and chicks and bunnies rolls around again in Central Texas. Throughout the coming weekend, multitudes of families will take part in our ironic Lone Start tradition of delighting in spring-green trees and bluebonnets of Williamson and Travis counties while navigating highways traffic has rendered almost impassable. All said, it's a lot of fun for the young, as well as the young-at-heart.
While the upcoming Easter weekend's festivities are too brief to affect your waistline, the holiday can still bring significant, life-changing consequences to the journeys you travel. In this post, we share some “eggs” of wisdom to help you drive past trouble on your way--both to and from--springtime holiday fun.
While You're Driving
- Ensure that you're well-rested, and allow extra time to arrive at your destination. Central Texas holiday highways are forever crowded with unseasoned drivers and traffic choke points--even on mega-highway IH-35.
- Verify that your license and insurance are current, since police can check their status without pulling you over. A mere charge of "driving with invalid license" or "driving with no insurance" can lead to costly tickets or an unanticipated trip to jail.
- Don't drink, text, or smoke marijuana while driving. This especially applies to late-evening or morning hours when patrol-persons are out in full force and on the hunt for intoxicated drivers. Remember: even one false move may prompt them to pull you over and put you through the ringer.
- Watch out for other drivers. You might be sober as a judge, but the guy in the next car might have forfeited his best faculties to drink, stress, electronic devices, or an excess indulgence in Easter candy.
- Stay relaxed, cool, and calm, especially if you're driving away from extended-family drama. If you're angry or upset when you place that key in the ignition, you're more likely to lose your focus and best judgment behind the wheel.
If You're Pulled Over
Despite full preparation and best driving behavior, some travelers will still have the unpleasant experience of being definitively "pulled over"during the coming holiday weekend. Should this happen to you, remember that what you do before and during a traffic stop may impact your ability to drive away from additional problems. If a police car follows behind you with an activated siren or emergency lights:
- Remember that your every move is likely being recorded by the officer's in-car video camera.
- Move safely--but quickly--to the side of the road. Doing so isn't an admission of guilt. It IS, however, a sign of alertness and cooperation the officer will notice as he decides whether to investigate you further.
- Scruplulously follow all traffic laws. Use appropriate turn signals. and don't make any sudden driving moves.
- Put the officer at ease by resting your hands on the steering wheel where he/she can see them.
- Don't start rummaging for your license and registration unless you are told to do so. Your innocent attempt to anticipate the officer's request for these documents may be regarded as a "furtive movement"--giving officers an excuse to search your car or even assume you're reaching for a weapon.
- Stay in the car until and unless the officer directs you to get out.
While speaking with law enforcement:
- Let the officer do the talking, and only respond when appropriate.
- Don't offer more information than necessary—your voluntary admissions can come back to haunt you.
- Remember that until you are in custody, the officer doesn't have to read you your rights.
Remember Your Rights While You're On The Road
If you ARE detained or arrested:
- You have an absolute right to remain silent. Use it!
- Don't share any more information than you have to. Being pulled over makes most people nervous, and nervous people tend to talk too much. Your loose lips may lead you to say something you shouldn't.
- You don't have to consent to a search of yourself or your car. If you're not under arrest, beware an officer's seemingly-innocent request to “take a look inside the car." If an officer DOES ask to search, he's hoping to find something illegal, and won't stop looking until he does.
- You don't have to wait forever for a drug-sniffing dog to come to the scene. Very often, officers bluff people into consenting to a search of their vehicle because they're told that if they don't, a drug dog will be called to the scene. Since every municipality only employs a few drug dogs, there is a good chance that the dog handler won't arrive for some time. If you have to wait beyond a few minutes, officers must let you go. When in doubt, remember this: if you admit possession of something you shouldn't have you will be arrested and go to jail, but if the drug dog doesn't make it to the scene within a few minutes you will most likely be released.
- If you are arrested, you have the right to retain an attorney, and you should request one immediately. As soon as you request legal representation, police must cease to question you. They also can't return for further questioning at a later time.
- Once the officer has completed the reason for the traffic stop, you have the right to ask if you can freely leave the scene. Unless you are to be arrested or formally detained, officers should allow you to proceed on your way. Our laws don't allow them to force questions on you while they fish around to uncover some other reason to detain you.
Anxiety-provoking and embarrassing as a traffic stop seems, remember that law officers are simply doing their job. Rest assured that if the officers can't detain or arrest you, they'll move on to find another culprit who might--perchance--have committed a serious crime. Should you get pegged for a traffic stop, you'll ensure your best outcome by politely but firmly exercising your rights. We hope that this holiday weekend sends you back home with nary a legal concern on your mind. In the rare situation that you DO find yourself in hot water, remember that that Russ Hunt, Jr. compassionately and effectively defends drivers charged with crimes on the roads of Williamson and Travis Counties and throughout Central Texas.