Can The Police Just Pull Me Over?
The short answer is, yes…and no.
The police need to have a legitimate reason to believe you warrant a closer look, such as broken traffic laws, suspicion of impairment, investigation of an offence, or a vehicle safety check.
When under oath, police officers must be able to properly articulate the reason why they pulled you over. If they are unable to do so, your case could be dismissed.
In Ontario, traffic laws are outlined in the Highway Traffic Act that gives police officers the power to pull you over to verify:
- valid driver’s licence
- vehicle is in good working order
- vehicle is properly insured
- no impairment due to alcohol/drugs.
What Do I Do If I Get Pulled Over?
Pull over when instructed to, and:
- Stay cool and calm – even if you feel the officer’s treatment is unfair.
- Be polite. Do not get loud or display anger.
- Keep your hands in the open. Do not put your hands into your pockets, and make sure the offer can see them at all times.
- Avoid sudden movements. If you need to get your documents from the glove compartment, ask the officer for permission.
- Be honest. If you are lying, you could be charged with obstructing justice.
Although you are encouraged to be polite, you do not have to speak to the police if you don’t want to. Passengers do not have to answer any questions or give any identification documents, if they choose not to.
However, as the driver, when asked you must show the police your:
- driver’s licence
- vehicle registration
- proof of insurance for the vehicle
If you don’t show the police your documents, you could be charged with a provincial offence under the Highway Traffic Act.
Should I Agree To Take A Breathalyser Test?
If the police suspect you have been drinking, they can make you blow into a roadside screening device, or take a Standardized Field Sobriety test, which is a group of tests designed to assess balance, coordination, and determine if a driver is impaired.
You do not have the right to refuse a field sobriety test, and you do not have the right to speak to a lawyer before taking a test. Refusing to take a field sobriety test is a criminal offence, and will likely result in a charge of refusing to comply with a police demand.
If the police have solid grounds to suspect that your ability to drive has been affected by alcohol/drugs, like if the reading on the roadside machine shows you have been drinking, you will be brought to the police station and given a “breathalyzer test”.
Taking A Breathalyzer Test At The Police Station
A certified breath technician conducts the breathalyzer test to examine the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream, and based on the results, determines if you are impaired. If it’s not practical to obtain a breath sample, the police can order you to give a blood, urine, or saliva sample as an alternative.
You do have the right to speak to a lawyer before taking a breathalyzer test at a police station.
Refusing to do the breathalyzer test is a criminal offence, and you will be charged with refusing to comply with a police demand.
The Standard Field Sobriety Test (SFST) includes:
The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) – an involuntary “jerking” of the eyeball which is more exaggerated when a person is intoxicated.
The walk-and-turn – the driver takes nine steps, heel-to-toe, along a straight line, then turns on one foot to continue in the opposite direction. During the test, the officer looks for several indicators of impairment.
The one-leg stand test – the driver stands with one foot six inches off the ground and counts until the officer says to put the foot down. During the test, the officer observes for signs of impairment.
Can The Police Search Me Without A Warrant?
The police actually do have limited powers to search you. For example, if you are detained because they have reasonable grounds to suspect that you have committed a criminal offence, the police can search for weapons to preserve public safety.
The police can search you for any of these reasons:
- to ensure their safety or the safety of the public
- to find evidence
- to stop the destruction of evidence
- to ensure the safety of public facilities
Based on the reasons listed above, depending on the situation, the police may also have the right to search your car.
Consenting To A Search
The police can also search you if they are given informed consent, meaning; you’ve agreed to let them search you, and understand the possible consequences.
In this case, the police still have to tell you the reasons why they want to search you, and the search must be limited to what you have consented to, not more. Remember, the police can use everything they find against you.
Know Your Rights When Pulled Over By Police
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects your individual rights in Canada, including the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure. This means that nobody can search you, take away your personal belongings, or access your personal information without clear legal reasons.