5 things traffic cops look for when you drive by

traffic cops Getting pulled over by a traffic cop generally doesn’t have a happy ending. You may be slapped with a ticket for a number of reasons, including your driving behavior and the condition of your car.

What’s worse, a ticket can raise your car insurance rates, depending on your insurer and the severity of the offense.  

So how can you avoid getting pulled over? Traffic cops typically are more attuned to some factors more than others when they're watching drivers on the road. If you want to avoid being pulled over, you should learn what those factors are.

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1. Your speed.

traffic cops speed Many drivers will drive faster than the posted speed limit – sometimes without even realizing it.

According to Mike Brucks, a retired traffic cop, he wouldn’t necessarily pull drivers over who were going only a little over the speed limit – but his first priority was that drivers were driving in a safe and controlled manner.

Although there's no guarantee that you won't be pulled over for going 5 to 7 mph over the speed limit, it's less likely to happen if you're driving at the same speed as the flow of traffic.

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2. Using a cellphone.

traffic cops cellphone  You might think driving is the perfect time to catch up on your phone calls, but talking on the phone without a hands-free device while driving is a distraction that every traffic cop looks out for. Texting also is a problem because it takes your eyes off of the road. According to Distraction.gov, sending or receiving a text message takes your eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, during which, at 55 mph, you will travel the length of a football field.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 12 states have banned handheld cellphone use for all drivers. Forty-one states banned texting while driving, and all but four states make that a primary enforcement law, which means that a cop can pull you over for that offense alone.

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3. Reckless driving.

traffic cops reckless driving Driving a car on the road isn't the same as driving one in a video game, and traffic cops watch out for signs of reckless driving. A cop will consider your driving reckless if you drive dangerously with intent. This kind of behavior can include not stopping at intersections, making illegal U-turns, not paying attention to yield signs and following the driver in front of you too closely.

But don’t think that there’s a definitive list of what qualifies as reckless driving. "What constitutes reckless driving is up to the discretion of the traffic cop,” says Arthur Hunt, a driving instructor with Kennesaw Driving School in Georgia. He says, for example, one type of behavior that may qualify as reckless is if you speed excessively to pass the driver ahead of you.

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4. Your car’s condition.

traffic cops car condition Your car's appearance makes a first impression on traffic cops just as your hairstyle and clothing choices make a first impression on people you meet. Some car condition violations include:

  • Driving with taillights, headlights or turn signals that don't work.
  • Windows that are tinted too darkly.
  • A cracked windshield.
  • No side or rearview mirror.
  • Items packed in a truck bed that could fall out.

"Traffic cops get suspicious if your tag lights are out. They wonder whether they are out on purpose to hide your license plate," Hunt says. "Expired (registration) tags could also get you pulled over," he adds. 

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5. Driving in the fast lane.

traffic cops fast lane The far left lane on the freeway or highway is typically for drivers to use to pass slower drivers ahead of them. It's against the law in many states – including Illinois, Kentucky, Maine and Massachusetts - to use that lane for anything other than passing. Nevertheless, some drivers choose to drive in the passing lane, which is something traffic cops look for. Drivers tend to drive faster in the passing lane and if a traffic cop is on the median strip, it's easy for him or her to pull you over. 

Driving too slowly might get you pulled over too, no matter which lane you're in. That signals to the traffic cop that you might be impaired or distracted. Even if neither applies to you, you impede traffic when you drive too far below the speed limit – and some states have started to view this behavior as dangerous. In 2010, Georgia passed a law known as the “slowpoke law”, which set a minimum fine of $75 for any driver who is driving less than the speed limit in the left lane and refuses to move right for faster drivers.

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