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Ho, ho, no: Handling traffic stops during the holidays

During the holiday season, most folks use vacation days to visit friends, family or entertainment venues. For those enjoying The Island, the ensuing gatherings can be full-filled. For those dealing with in-laws at get-togethers, the run-ins may be stressful. Whatever the vibe of the event, these feelings typically lessen during the car ride home as drivers take advantage of the ride home to decompress. For drivers who find speeding helps them to relax, getting pulled over for traveling at excess speeds will definitely wreck their ability to unwind. Law enforcement knows the season's revelry often leads to poor driving and institutes safety checks to reduce the chances of collisions.

If you are driving during the holiday season, please be aware that law enforcement will be stepping up its monitoring. The increased rates of accidents during days of celebration warrant a stronger police presence. According to the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), "40 percent of traffic-related deaths during Christmas and New Year's involve drunk drivers-a 12 percent increase over the rest of the month of December." Those driving throughout the season would do well to pay attention to their speeds, signals and stops.

Should you get pulled over by a police officer, these are the steps you should follow to ensure the conversation with the officer doesn't devolve:

1. Prepare for the discussion

When you see lights in your rearview mirror, you should locate a safe place to park your car. Side streets or wide shoulders are ideal because they remove both cars and the officer from harm's way. After turning off the ignition, you should keep your hands in plain sight so that the officer doesn't suspect you are reaching for a weapon.

2. Provide proper documentation

Typically, officers will ask to see a driver's license, the documentation for the vehicle and a current insurance card. Storing these last two documents in your glove compartment at all times will ensure that you can locate them on demand.

3. Maintain composure

Even if you are certain that you did not disobey any traffic laws, it's very important to remain calm and polite. Getting a speeding ticket is frustrating and expensive. Although a traffic citation may result in raised insurance rates, this option is preferable to others that occur when emotions escalate. If you feel that you have been treated unfairly, the time to call attention to an injustice is at the police station, not in your car.

Of course, there are requests the officer may make that you do not have to grant. Knowing your rights will ensure that your privacy is protected and that your civil liberties are not denied. You do not need to obey these orders:

1. Access to your cellphone

If an officer asks you for your cellphone, you are not required to hand it over. A ruling by the Supreme Court has made it illegal to search a cellphone without a warrant. Officers may inspect the physical components of the cellphone if they believe the phone can be used as a weapon, but they may not look through your phone contacts, text messages or pictures without your consent. If you give your phone to the officer, you are consenting to the search of the phone. Any information you have stored can be used against you.

2. Admission to your trunk

The same rule applies to the inspection of a car trunk. You may believe that complying with the officer's wishes will help your case; however, anything found in the trunk may also be used as evidence.

Of course, it can be hard to stay calm in what is often a stressful situation. If your mind is racing when you are pulled over for speeding, take a breath. Keeping your cool will help to clear your mind so that you can resolve the situation quickly.

Individuals who believe that they were not treated lawfully during a traffic stop are advised to seek the counsel of a knowledgeable attorney to determine the best course of action to take.

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