The Art of the Stop

The Art of the Stop

Presented by D.M.A.C.

The Art of the Stop DMAC presentation poster. Displays a patrol car with lights flashing in a driver's rearview mirror.

For years traffic stops have been considered to be a driver’s worse nightmare. Some stops can be seen by the driver before it happens, and some cannot. In 2015, the National Safety Council estimated that over 19,000 people were killed in traffic accidents and 4.4 million injured on U.S. roadways. Each year Law Enforcement conducts over twenty million traffic stops. These stops are conducted with one goal in mind and that is to ensure all traffic laws are being followed and drivers are being safe and responsible. Regardless of that fact, if you are stopped, it’s not the end of the world. Every driver has the right to dispute any citation however, the time to dispute is not while the citation is being written. A date will be given to the driver and the citation can be paid by that date or disputed in court on that same date. So, always be smart and never feel violated or profiled if you are stopped. The color of your skin nor where you come from dictates a traffic stop. IT’S THE VIOLATION!! Law enforcement has a dangerous job and there is no time for inappropriate or wasteful stops. Have you ever been driving, and it seems like you were obeying all the traffic laws but suddenly, you see a police car in your mirror? You continue to drive and it appears that you are being followed for miles. DON’T BE OFFENDED!!! If an officer follows you for a lengthy amount of time, two things are occurring. Either he/she happens to just be going the same way or an infraction has been identified. If it’s an infraction, the officer needs time to identify the vehicle and possibly the driver. A traffic stop can be a dangerous Occurrence. An officer can encounter stolen vehicles, subjects with warrants, or vehicles used in the commission of a crime. This is why the stop may not be made for miles after the infraction is committed. This usually begins in the rearview mirror. If it does, ask yourself what should I do?

The Rear View

You’re driving along and out of nowhere you see a patrol car in your rear-view mirror. What should you do?

  1. Continue to drive normally and obey all traffic signs.
  2. Continue to drive at a normal speed.
  3. Do not perform abrupt lane changes.
  4. Do not slow to a speed that impedes or interrupts the flow of traffic.


I see flashing lights in my rear view, what should I do?

  1. Remain calm and do not become frustrated.
  2. Begin to safely look for a location along the roadway to pull over. If it’s during the nighttime hours, officers know there may be some hesitation in some cases but that hesitation should be quickly identified by the driver and the officer’s presence should be acknowledged.
  3. Once you have come to a complete stop, place your vehicle in park, remove your foot from the brake and wait on instruction or approach from the officer.
  4. Keep your hands on the steering wheel in the 11 and 2 o’clock position.

We have found that keeping your vehicle registration and insurance information secured to your visor will aid in safety and transparency. This will also keep your hands in constant view of the officer.


Drivers must understand, there are three different approaches the officer may use during a stop. Don’t be offended if an approach is used that you are not used to. The three approaches are: The STRONG SIDE approach, the WEAK SIDE approach, and the MATRIX approach. Each approach is the officer’s PERSONAL PREFERENCE! Let’s analyze each approach and the behaviors that should be displayed by the driver. Each approach will begin with the driver/occupants inside the vehicle. Always, always wait for instruction. This is where Command and Response is very important because so many things can go wrong during a stop if we don’t understand each other.

Strong Side Approach

The STRONG SIDE approach takes place through the driver’s side window. The officer will approach most times in a very apprehensive manner. This is to be expected because there hasn’t been any interaction yet. When the officer arrives at the window, you will be greeted with the officer’s name, department, and the reason for the stop. The officer will then ask for your license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. We know if you are a male, your license will likely be in a wallet that is in your pocket or a console in the vehicle. We also know that a female will likely have a purse that will be on the front seat or front floorboard if there is no passenger. Or, it will be in one of the more common spots, the BACK SEAT. Each item has to be retrieved by reaching. The officer will ask you to retrieve these items and he will likely turn his/her gun away from the vehicle With the strong hand resting on the top of their weapon. Do not be offended by the hand position, it is strictly for safety. Slowly retrieve the items and once you have completed the request, place your hands back onto the steering wheel @11 and 2 and wait for further instruction and the officer’s return. While you wait, what should you do?

  1. Remain calm.
  2. Keep yours hands on the wheel.
  3. Do not try to make a phone call.
  4. Only do what you’re asked to do.

Upon the officer’s return there will be one of two occurrences. Either a citation will be issued or a verbal warning will be given. If a citation is issued you have two choices: sign it and pay it, or sign it and fight it. However, as I stated earlier, that fight should take place in court, not on the side of the road!!

Weak Side Approach

The weak side approach mimics the strong side approach. The only difference is it occurs through the passenger’s window! If this happens don’t be offended, it’s the OFFICERS
PREFERENCE!!! This method also keeps the officers away from the roadway and limits his/her chances of being struck by THE RUBBERNECKER. The RUBBERNECKER is that driver that is so drawn into the stop as they pass, they accidentally strike the officer or the vehicles that are pulled over. If you see a traffic stop or any emergency vehicle along the side of the road with the strobe lights activated, safely merge into the opposing lane. IT’S THE LAW!!

Matrix Approach

The matrix approach has many options for the officer. This approach will always remove you from your vehicle at some point, and instruction will be given at different times and locations.
If you’re asked to exit your vehicle, this should be done slowly and properly (refer to The Exit section below).

The Exit (Matrix Approach)

Open the door with your left hand and keep that hand visible. Bring your right hand over towards the door even with your left, exit the vehicle slowly, and face the officer. CLOSE YOUR DOOR, keep your hands at waist level with your palms up, and wait for instruction. You will likely be called to the rear of your vehicle and given instruction form that point. There will likely be a time when you will have to reenter the vehicle to retrieve items. At that time follow all instructions carefully and never make any sudden moves. This is crucial because of the manner of the stop, and also the fact that you are outside of the vehicle creates the possibility of other things occurring. Remember, all stops are conducted differently. Keep in mind if a matrix stop is conducted, the driver will spend the majority of the stop at the rear of their vehicle. If a citation is issued, this will also take place at the rear of the vehicle. PATIENCE! COURTESY! RESPECT! Always OBEY THE OFFICER’S COMMANDS!!


In summary, traffic stops can be dangerous but they serve as a useful tool to keep the driver honest and to ensure all traffic laws are being followed. This is a basic level traffic stop outline. Powerpoint and active demonstrations will give the community a better sense of understanding. Sessions are generally 1.5 to 2 hours and handouts will be given.