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Do you have to get out of your car when a cop asks in Michigan?

Deputy Michael Dixon of the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office makes a traffic stop on April 23.
Deputy Michael Dixon of the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office makes a traffic stop on April 23.

We received this question about traffic stops through our 4YI form, where you can ask us anything about Michigan and/or Metro Detroit and we will do our best to get back with an answer(s).

Question:

“Do you have to get out of your car when a cop asks you to on a traffic stop?” --Edward

Answer:

It depends. The short answer is if they ask you or order you to do so, you should.

You don’t have to get out of your vehicle in every situation that you are pulled over by police, according to Lt. David Scott from Wayne State University police. If you’re under arrest you have an obligation to get out of your vehicle. For example, if the officer suspects you’re drinking and driving and asks you to exit the vehicle and you refuse, you could be charged with resisting the officer. If the officer asks you to leave your vehicle but you don’t feel safe in the area you’re in, and the officer hasn’t said you’re under arrest, you don’t necessarily have to leave the vehicle. You can let the officer know you do not want to leave your vehicle.

We reached out to Michigan State Police Lt. Mike Shaw for more clarity. Shaw said every department has different training, which does make this a tough question to answer.

“I always remind people to remember the side of the road is not the place to push your 'Facebook Law Degree,’” he said. “Just about every police department has video and supervisors can review that video to see if the officer acted properly.”

Shaw said he learned how to handle this situation in recruit school and through various legal updates in his career.

“There is no law, so to speak, requiring people to exit their vehicle during a traffic stop. There is a US Supreme Court ruling called Pennsylvania v. Mimms that was decided in 1977 that found it reasonable for police to order people out of their car for officer safety. Disobeying that order could result in getting arrested for obstructing police. The best advice I could give is to cooperate with the police officer. If you feel something was improper or you didn’t do anything wrong, afterwards you can go to court or make a complaint to the officer’s supervisor,” said Shaw.

Read more about Pennsylvania vs. Mimms here.

By the way, under Michigan Vehicle Code Section 257.602, “A person shall not refuse to comply with a lawful order or direction of a police officer when that officer, for public interest and safety, is guiding, directing, controlling, or regulating traffic on the highways of this state.” But that doesn’t offer an exact explanation of what to do in a traffic stop situation, and that’s obviously part of the reason we’re here in the first place working to answer this question.

Bottom line: Listen to the law enforcement experts on this one -- if a police officer asks you to get out of your vehicle, you should comply to avoid legal trouble.


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