Seeing those blue lights in your rear-view mirror may cause you stress and anxiety, regardless of whether you have anything in your vehicle that could land you in hot water. Staying calm when authorities pull you over may help you avoid finding yourself in trouble, and so, too, might understanding what rights you have when this occurs.

Per Flex Your Rights, your rights are a bit different when authorities stop you in your car than they would be if they stopped you at home or while out in public. At home or out in public, authorities generally need to have a warrant before they may search you or your property. When you are in your car, though, all they need to search it is probable cause.

Understanding “probable cause”

What might constitute probable cause? If a law enforcement officer sees or smells illegal substances somewhere in your car, this may constitute probable cause. The same holds true if you make certain statements admitting to a crime.

Because a law enforcement officer must have probable cause before searching your vehicle, having suspicions about you engaging in illegal behavior is not enough to warrant a lawful search.

Avoiding searches

You may not be able to avoid all searches when authorities have probable cause. However, taking certain steps may help prevent some searches and improve the chances of you leaving the scene in your own vehicle.

Never admit to breaking the law, for starters. You have a right to remain silent during traffic stops, so tell the law enforcement official who stops you if you plan to exercise it. If the officer asks you if he or she may search your car in the absence of probable cause, understand that you have the right to say no to the request.

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