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What Happens When You Get Pulled Over

Ever been pulled over by the police? If so, how did you feel? Did you burst into tears or try to charm your way out of that pricey traffic ticket? Did you get the ticket anyway? What would others do in your shoes?
We wondered just that, so we asked over 2,000 people to tell us about their experiences getting pulled over. Here’s what we learned.

Who’s Getting a Traffic Ticket?

It turns out, getting out of a traffic ticket once the blue and red lights have come on is rare. When we asked our respondents how often they got out of a ticket, most – about 28 percent – said “never,” while over 20 percent indicated rarely. Still, around 19 percent of participants always got out of a ticket.
Who are these lucky people? While men may get more speeding tickets than women, men are also more likely than women to always get out of a traffic ticket (about 20 percent). It may be they’re just more likely to speed, have a busted taillight, or run a red light, or it could be that men drive significantly more than women.
White drivers were most likely to always get out of a traffic ticket (nearly 20 percent), while black drivers were most likely to report never getting out of a ticket (34 percent).

Getting Out of a Traffic Ticket

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As the data show, 89 percent of respondents who told police the truth were able to get out of a traffic ticket. Even showing remorse (about 78 percent) was a better tactic than flirting with the police officer (72 percent). No need to work up tears or invent an emergency.

High Emotions at a Traffic Stop

The most common emotion – by a long shot – motorists reported feeling when pulled over was anxiety (50 percent). It may be that the idea of getting a ticket and having to pay it is anxiety-provoking. Or it could be that there is a significant distrust of police (31% of Americans believe the police routinely lie to serve their own interests). The U.S. may just be an overwhelmingly anxious place overall, with anxiety disorders affecting 40 million adults.
Respondents were also mostly scared (almost 25 percent) when they got pulled over.
When segmented by race, white and Asian-American drivers felt the most anxious – 60.5 and 56 percent respectively. However, black drivers were most scared being pulled over (almost 44 percent). This feeling may be related to the fact that unarmed black people are five times more likely to be killed by police than unarmed white people. News coverage of unarmed shootings in recent years has been extensive.

Who’s More Likely to Get Pulled Over?

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, men are more likely to be stopped than women. Interestingly, our survey results align with this finding, with men more likely to be pulled over on average (3.88 times for every 3.38 times a woman is pulled over).
Type of vehicle and location also seem to matter, with trucks pulled over significantly more often than vans and people in the southeast more likely to be pulled over than people in the northeast.

Guilty as Ticketed

In 2011, roughly 80 percent of people pulled over admitted the police officer had a legitimate reason for stopping them. Of drivers surveyed, black drivers were the less likely than Hispanic or white drivers to believe there was a legitimate reason for stopping them, with just 68 percent calling the traffic stop legitimate.
When asked how often they were guilty of a traffic violation, most of our respondents answered “usually” or “sometimes.”
Black respondents were most likely to respond “never” (with 6 percent saying each traffic stop was unjustified), while Hispanic people were most likely to respond they “rarely” felt at fault when pulled over (nearly 23 percent).

Stay Safe

Many respondents – across race and gender – admitted their previous traffic incidents were legitimate. The best way to keep yourself off the radar and get where you’re going safely and on time? Obey speeding laws, buckle up, and comply with all traffic laws in your area.
Overall, traffic laws are there to keep you safe. Plus, staying away from tickets and accidents can help you keep your car insurance costs low. Who couldn’t use a few extra bucks each month?


For this project, we surveyed just over 2,000 Americans to find out about their driving habits and other information surrounding traffic stops.


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