Regardless of whether you break any laws, communicating with law enforcement officials may prove stressful and anxiety-inducing. Whether your communications with police happen during a traffic stop or in public, do your best to remain calm; the way you react and behave during those interactions may have an impact on whether that interaction leads to criminal charges. Also, keep in mind that it usually serves you well to remain polite and respectful anytime you deal with law enforcement.

Your rights differ somewhat based on where you are during your communications with law enforcement. To protect yourself and minimize the chances of criminal charges, know your rights with regard to the following.

When authorities pull you over

You have the right to remain silent during a traffic stop, whether you are the driver of the vehicle or a passenger. To enhance safety, before the law enforcement officer approaches, turn on a light so he or she can see into the vehicle. Place both hands on the steering wheel (or dashboard, if you are not the driver). Follow the officer’s instructions to the letter, doing no more and no less than he or she says.

As a passenger, you may be able to exit the vehicle and leave the scene if you receive consent from the officer before doing so.

When authorities stop you in public

You also have the right to remain silent when stopped by authorities in public, but you need to tell them you are exercising that right. You do not have to answer questions about your destination, residence, citizenship status or anything else at this time. However, if you do decide to answer questions, avoid giving the law enforcement officer a false name or identification. If authorities suspect you may have a weapon on you, they may pat you down, but beyond that, you do not have to consent to a search.