Preventive medicine: Police stops, a discussion for the times

crutchfieldsquarehelpful checklist on what you should do and say if you are driving and get pulled over by the police 


Part  one  of  a three-part  column







Preventive Medicine is a board-certified specialty of medical practice that focuses on the health of individuals, communities, and defined populations. Its goal is to protect, promote and maintain health and well-being and to prevent disease, disability, and death.

With that in mind, and considering recent and past events, I’d like to discuss, in a three-part preventive medicine series, safe and effective ways of dealing with police-citizen encounters. This is something everyone needs to review personally and review with family members and children.

This week and next I will discuss vehicle stops conducted by the police. In part three I will discuss how to interact with the police when confronted on-foot or if the police knock on your door.


Preventing the stop in the first place 

Every time you change your oil (or on a monthly or quarterly basis), make sure to check that your license tabs are up-to-date and be sure to check that all exterior lights are functioning properly. This includes tail lights, brake lights, head lights, turn signal lights, side lights, and license plate lights.

Check them all, and check them in the dark. Expired license tabs and malfunctioning exterior lights are common reasons for being pulled over, and this can easily be prevented.

If you plan on going to an event where you will be consuming alcohol, either have a predetermined designated driver or use an alcohol monitoring device readily available on the Internet. carries an “Alcohawk” unit for about $30 that you can keep in your car. Use it before driving EVERY TIME you consume alcohol.

If you are close to the legal limit, or over the limit, ABSOLUTELY DO NOT DRIVE. Call a friend, family member, or a taxi (e.g. sober cab). Some cab services will even have a separate driver follow you in your own car so it is there waiting for you the next day.

Always wear your seatbelt. In Minnesota you can get pulled over for not wearing a seat belt, but the most important consideration is that seat belts save over 10,000 lives every year in the U.S. (according to the National Highway Safety Traffic Safety Administration).


If you see a police car with sirens and lights on

Using your turn signal, pull over to the right side of the road quickly and safely, slowing down in a moderate manner, not braking too hard so the police car does not have to avoid hitting you.

Pull over as far to the right as possible so you give the officer plenty of room to approach your car on foot without fear of being hit by passing traffic.

Your movements are now being watched very carefully. Sometimes they will even shine a bright light on you as they approach the car. This is to see if you are making any movements to hide something (below the seat or in a pocket) or throw something out of the window. Such movements may give the officer reason to search you or your car, so remain calm and relatively still.

Next week: How best to conduct yourself during the remainder of such an encounter with law enforcement.

Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine and one of the top 21 African American physicians in the U.S. by the Atlanta Post. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians,