news

What are your legal rights when you are pulled over by police?

When police lights start flashing behind you, your responsibilities are clear — or are they?

Earlier this year, three men pretending to be police made headlines after pulling over and robbing a man in Adelaide.

The incident sparked fierce discussion and some drivers began to question their safety at road stops.

ABC Radio Adelaide listener Karen of Wingfield said: “I have told my kids if an unmarked car tries to pull them over, drive to a well-lit place like a service station and pull over there.”

But what are your legal responsibilities when you are directed to pull over?

“It is reasonable for you to [follow the direction] as long as you know that you can wait until it is safe to do so,” Chris Boundy, from the Legal Services Commission of SA, said.

He said police could only pull over a vehicle that appeared defective or if they believed the driver had or was committing a crime.

What can happen at a road stop?

Mr Boundy said it was important to remain calm and be cooperative.

“Remaining friendly and obliging is a good start to getting a quick and easy dialogue to find out why they pulled you over.”

He said every police officer was empowered under the road laws to ask a driver for identification.

“[The driver must provide] full name, the place where they are living and they may be required to name their place of business.”

Mr Boundy said if there was any doubt about the information supplied, the driver can be asked to produce a photographic ID — generally a driver’s licence.

“Under the road laws, they are entitled to ask who is the owner of the vehicle and to make sure they can identify who was driving the vehicle.”

Police can also give direction to or question all people in the vehicle, not just the driver, he added.

“If people refuse to answer questions and inhibit the police in identifying people, they can be fined.”

Is a driver’s licence legal proof of identity?

Several listeners called and texted to question the validity of a driver’s licence for identification.

“Says on the back of the licence, ‘Not to be used for ID purposes’,” Jenny of Nuriootpa said.

Mr Boundy said this was a common myth.

The back of SA licences actually state:

“Use of this permit/licence for identification purposes, other than for policing road traffic laws, is not intended or authorised, and is solely at the risk of the user.”

Drivers of vehicles heavier than 4.5 tonnes must carry their licence at all times.

Light vehicle operators do not have to carry their licences while driving, but have a 48-hour window to present them at a police station if requested.

ADVERTISEMENT

What if you think an unmarked car is fake?

Mr Boundy said you should pull over when directed if a car displays flashing lights.

“You are entitled to stay within your locked car until you can satisfy yourself about the proper identification [of police].

“It is a serious offence to impersonate a police officer, with a maximum penalty of up to $10,000.”

Mr Boundy said you are within your rights to ask to see official identification.

“The overwhelming preponderance of these incidents are going to be authorised police officers.”

Can police search your car?

Police were allowed to search a vehicle when there was a belief that something in the vehicle contributed to a crime, Mr Boundy said.

“They are not allowed to search you personally unless they have a warrant from a magistrate,” he said.

A warrant could be issued over the phone by a magistrate if police believed you were concealing illegal items.

And they can request to inspect your mobile phone only if they believe it was being used at the time of driving.

Mr Boundy said if people found something unusual about a situation, advise the person they want to double check details and call their local police station for confirmation.

This post originally appeared on ABC News.


© 2017 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved. Read the ABC Disclaimer here

00:00 / ???