Stopped by the cops: your rights
Getting pulled over by police can often feel stressful, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are the answers to some of your frequently asked questions about your rights.
When do police have the right to pull me over?
You can be pulled over for all sorts of reasons. The obvious one is if you’re clearly breaking a road rule – like zooming past a stop sign. You can also be asked to stop for a random breath test at any time.
Other situations can be more subjective, as the law simply says police need to have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect you’ve broken the law – or are about to. This includes a roadworthiness check if your car appears to be in bad nick.
What if it's not safe for me to pull over straightaway?
Your best bet is to pull over as soon as you can, and then suggest to the officer that you move to somewhere safer.
In fact, the officer may ask you to move your vehicle straightaway if it’s causing a hazard. If the officer refuses? Well, then the ball’s in their court.
If you’ve been pulled over by an unmarked police car and are worried it’s fake, you should still pull over, but you don’t need to unlock the door or get out of the car until the officer has shown you proper identification.
Do I have to answer the officer's questions?
The only information you have to give is your name, date of birth and address. It also needs to be clear who owns the vehicle and who was driving when you were signalled to pull over.
It’s a good idea to be polite and friendly – the police are just doing their job after all – but you legally don’t need to say anything else when being quizzed by an officer, or answer any further questions.
Remember, anything you do say can be used later as evidence in court if you’re charged with an offence.
Do I have to show them my licence?
If you’re on your full licence, you don’t legally need to have it on you when you drive.
In fact, you have 48 hours to take your licence to a police station if asked, but obviously it saves a lot of hassle on both sides if you’ve got your licence in your wallet.
If you’re driving interstate though, you’ll need to have your licence on you at all times – so don’t leave it lying around in your hotel room.
The rules are different for L and P platers, and drivers of heavy vehicles, who have to carry their licence with them every time they drive.
Head to mylicence if you've got any more specific licence questions and, if you are travelling interstate, make sure you're across the road rules in that particular state or territory.
Are they allowed to search my car?
Yes, police can search your car without a warrant if they have ‘reasonable’ grounds to think the vehicle has been, is being, or will be involved in a crime. However, it’s within your rights to ask police why they want to do so.
Do I have to get out of my car?
If a police officer suspects you’re unqualified, unfit or unauthorised to drive, they can tell you to leave the car and not return until further notice – provided this can be done safely.
If they believe you’re unfit to drive because you’ve been drinking or taking drugs, they may also tell you to secure the vehicle and hand over your keys (which you can collect from a specified police station once you’re fit and authorised to drive again).
If their suspicions are proven correct, your car may be impounded.
What if I think I'm being treated unfairly?
You can always ask for the officer’s name, rank and identification number – just like you, they’re required to provide this basic info. Make sure you note all this down, as you can make a formal complaint later if you’re unhappy with how things unfolded.
Got any other tips?
Remember that it’s an offence to obstruct or hinder police as they go about their duties, so stay calm.
It’s serious business, but it’s the job of police to help keep us all safe – and that includes following road rules.
By following these tips, you can feel confident in doing the right thing if you come into contact with police on the road.
If you've got any more questions, our Motoring Road Rules service can help.