Do you know why I pulled you over? The Famous Question Explained

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In this article you will find 3 reasons police always ask:

“Do you know why I pulled you over?”

The questions remain, why do police ask this question?

And, how should you respond when you are asked?

Let’s jump right in!

The Question Asked At Every Traffic Stop

It’s true, and it’s not just in the movies either. The question is asked all the time by police who pull over a car. But why do they always ask…

“Do you know why I pulled you over today?”

Well there are actually a few reasons that the question is asked at a traffic stop. Whether you were unsafely driving a motorcycle, or you believe you were driving perfectly.

You should know why police officers ask the question.

Here are the top 3 reasons police officers ask!

Reason 1: To Establish a Conversation

One of the first, and perhaps most obvious reasons that police officers ask the question is to begin the conversation.

How else do would they begin the conversation?

Unfortunately, traffic stops are a serious concern for police officers. If they just came up and asked “How are you doing today?” instead. It would be misleading.

Whereas “Do you Know why I stopped you today?” is very straight forward and to the point.

According to Sam Shallenberger, Reserve Police Sergeant these are a few of the benefits of asking:

I don’t use that technique, but it is widely used.

The “Do you know why I stopped you” technique has the following advantages:

    No accusation initially from the officer. Driver less defensive.
    Often, driver admits to additional offenses. Stop was for speed, asked “Do you know why I stopped you” driver replies “Because I was texting?” or “Because I’ve been drinking?” or “Because the license plate doesn’t belong on this car?”.
    Establishes baseline communications, and a pattern of ask/answer to aid assessment of future answers.

Reason 2: To Evaluate Your Personality

Police officers are constantly evaluating scene safety, and asking the question, helps them evaluate your character.

Here’s the deal, your response to “Do you know why I pulled you over?” says a lot about you.

Police Officers Read Body Language and Verbal Cues

It’s no secret that police officers have to use any available resource to gauge their scene safety.

One of the few things that they have access to before they know who you are is your behavior.

Get this, when you are walking up to a strange vehicle, social ques and body language are all you have. Especially when you don’t know who is actually in the vehicle.

Determine Your Level of Self-Responsibility

According to some police officers, it helps to determine your level of self-responsibility. Depending on your response, an officer may or may not decide to issue a ticket.

According to Scott Harris a Deputy since 2009:

Scott Harris, Deputy (in the United States) at A Sheriff's Office (2009-present)
Mainly it's to establish a conversation. We are trained to recognize body language, subconscious verbal cues, etc that help us determine what's going on. Talking helps us with that. The secondary reason is to determine the driver's level of personal responsibility. The goal of a traffic stop is to determine what course of action I can take to make travel safer for everyone.

I like Scott’s response as it show the thinking behind an officers actions at a traffic stop.

It is easy to be upset with the officer, but when you consider that the officer is trying to do what is best for everyone. It can make the situation less stressful.

Deputy Scott Harris actually continued his explanation with two scenarios that are worth checking out…

Scott Harris on why police ask "do you know why I pulled you over?
For someone with a high level of personal responsibility, who says “I was in a hurry and speeding because I let myself leave for work late"…. They may just need a verbal warning and short lecture on how much difference a few mph makes in accidents or even accident avoidance. Conversely, someone who screams at me or has no idea why they got pulled over (when they were driving 15 over and passing cars on the right) might need a hit to their wallet in order to get through to them. Or, even if they still refuse to take responsibility for their driving, they may drive more safely simply because it hurts too much financially not to.

Get this, at least as far as Deputy Scott explains it, sometimes accepting responsibility will keep you out of trouble. But don’t jump to conclusions before reading to the end.

Reason 3: To Collect Evidence

Although traffic laws are different than criminal offenses. Officers may find that you admit to crimes or other offenses they weren’t aware of.

Furthermore, if you admit to knowing why you were pulled over it will be difficult to deny it latter should you want to deny the matter in court.

Most people are honest. Opening with this question may result in you admitting to a crime or traffic offense the officer didn’t know about when he pulled you over.

Always be aware, that any answer used can be used against you in court.

So What is the Best Response?

Whether you were using a cellphone while driving or simply speeding, you want to know how to respond to the police officer when you are asked.

Look, there is no definite answer.

Each situation will be unique to your own situation. Sometimes being honest can get you out of a ticket by showing self-responsibility. Sometimes it can result in a solid case against you.

Answer 1: “I Don’t Know”

One thing is for sure: Answering the question with “I don’t know” may be the worst response you can make.

Angel Lewis a former Probation Officer tells us this:


If the suspect says “I don’t know” when asked this question, then the suspect has given the cop evidence that he or she was not paying attention while operating a motor vehicle. This perceived lack of attention can be used as evidence of impairment, should the cop decide to arrest the suspect for DUI.

This is crazy, but answering the question with “I don’t know” can show carelessness, or that you simply were not paying attention while driving.

Avoid answering with “I don’t know.” The only answer that may be worse is “It depends on how long you were following me”.

Answer 2: “Yes”

Assume That You Know

You may think you know why the officer pulled you over. And maybe you do. No matter how you answer you can only assume.

If you happen to be right the officer may see it as a sign that you are self-aware. Perhaps it will get you out of the ticket. On the other hand you may have no idea why they actually pulled you over.

If that is the case you may be adding to your trouble.

Answer 3: “No”

Know That You Don’t Know

The truth is that you don’t know why you were pulled over.

“Although it may be hard not to tell the officer why you think you were pulled over, you don’t have to. “

You may have a good idea about why the officer stopped you, but We have all heard the question before.

The truth is you can not know what the officer is thinking.

In court assuming what someone is thinking is called speculation, and will not pass for evidence.

So, if you are asked do you know why you were pulled over, the truth is no. You can’t know.

Is the Approach Outdated?

According to some police officers, starting out a stop by asking “do you know why I pulled you over?” is not the best technique.

For instance Mike Gordon a retired city police officer had this to say to the question “Why do police ask “do you know why I pulled you over” during traffic stops”:

answer to why police ask Do you know why I pulled you over:
Miles Gordon, Retired city cop
"Not all of them do. Those that do either had poor training, or have fallen into bad habits, or think they’ll catch the driver in a lie. Because of officer safety issues, starting a traffic stop by asking that question is the wrong approach."

James Powell, a law enforcement with 24 years of experience had this response to the question:

answer to why police ask Do you know why I pulled you over:
James Powell, 8 years military, 24 years law enforcement, 
I cannot answer for other officers intent. I personally have never asked the question. I walk up to the car, ask for your license and proof of insurance and then I tell you why I pulled you over. This will illicit the same type of reaction as if I had asked you do you know why I pulled you over. And this way I never asked you to confess to the crime of speeding. You confessed on your own free will.

So obviously, not all police officers start a traffic stop with the question. Yet it is certainly something to be prepared for if you are pulled over at a traffic stop.

The Bottom Line

It’s true, not all traffic stops are the same, but preparation for any situation is key.

If you want to read more about this question, check out this forum.

Obviously the best way to handle the situation is to not get pulled over to begin with, but if you are pulled over. You want to be as prepared.

If you need legal representation from lawyers near you, you can search for the best lawyers near you.

Here are some of our listings:

Best Lawyers in Kitty Hawk, NC

Top attorneys in Virginia Beach, VA

Lawyers in Elizabeth City, North Carolina

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