The Psychology of Avoiding Traffic Tickets (Step-by-Step Guide)

How do you avoid a traffic ticket when a cop pulls you over?

This article will explain how to do just that.

police car: how to avoid a traffic ticket

Avoid Traffic Tickets: Overview

This is the gist of the psychology of getting off a traffic ticket:

Be confident and friendly at the same time, but let the police officer feel like he’s in charge and that you respect that.

Basically, you don’t want to seem like you are challenging his authority.

Why?

Because otherwise he will want to prove you wrong and re-assert his authority by, you guessed it, giving yo ua traffic ticket.

Power indeed is not always about dominating, it’s about getting what you want.
And sometimes being non-threatening and deferring to the authority is really the best way of getting what you want.

Traffic ticket psychology

The interaction of giving someone a ticket can be inherently unfriendly: a party has supposedly done something wrong, and the other party punishes him.

It’s not too uncommon drivers overreact or are rude, and the police officer often feels the need he has to dominate and impose his authority,

The police officer can then see you as an adversary before the interaction even begins, and possibly even as a threat.

And as Cialdini explains in Pre-Suasion how people feel before an interaction starts can often make all the difference.

Your first goal then is to show you’re not a threat and that you’re a friendly person.

Also, without going overboard in submissiveness, you want to show that you respect his authority and that you’re OK with him being the final decision maker.

The first step takes you away from negative territory and the second takes only slightly into positive territory.
With the next steps you want to go fully into positive territory.

Your aim then is to shape a good interaction and make the officers feel good. Building rapport and letting him play a teacher/leader role is a great way of doing so.

In bullet points you want to:

  1. Show you’re not a threat
  2. Communicate your respect him and his authority
  3. Build rapport
  4. Make him feel good (let him play the expert/teacher role)

I have been pulled over three times for infractions, twice I got away scot-free and once with a heavily reduced ticket.

Let’s see how to do it then:

1. Show Early Compliance: Pull Over Quick

Almost no cop will tell you they appreciate you stopping right away -except for the one in the video below-, but deep down, most will be glad they’re not in for a chase.

Also stopping very quick is your very first sign that you’re not a threat and that you respect their authority.

https://youtu.be/tyD2-abFGTw?t=6m15s

The “psychology” shown in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to let the cop wait for you to pull over is most likely to backfire instead :).

2. Get Out of The Car

Slowly and confidently -but not confrontational- step out of the car.

You get out of the car because when the officer comes to you there are a few bad things happening in the social dynamics:

  1. He has to leave his territory -his car or his checkpoint-, which is uncomfortable
  2. He has to approach “your” territory, which unconsciously raise tension for him
  3. Worst of all, your car act as a wall between you and him

Staying in your car you remain an unknown, unfriendly and possibly even dangerous lawbreaker and you strongly reduce your chances of a friendly resolution.

Your best bet in getting off a ticket is for them to see you as a person instead, and possibly a person with whom they could be a friend of.

It might be not a coincidence that most friendly encounters I’ve seen in my Youtube research were with bike driver, where the interaction naturally occurs without the obstruction of the car frame.

NOTE: Get out of the car applies unless you’re in some places where cops expect you to stay in the car with your hands on the wheel

3. Show You Are No Threat: Palm Signs

When you go out, show the palms of your hands, which is a cross-cultural of showing you’re not a threat (What Every Body is Saying) and flash your eye brows quickly up, which is a sign of friendliness (The Like Switch).

Walk and move at medium to low speed, which is a sign you’re in control of yourself and are not rushing towards them, which can be considered an aggressive sign.

If it’s night time, approach them in the full light of their car headlights, so that they can see you fully.

4. Show Deference: Nonverbals

David Lieberman says that to be forgiven you first have to give people the power to forgive you.

That’s why being confrontational is often a wrong strategy: you are pushing them into a competition to prove they’re in charge, and they will do so by giving you maximum punishment.

Show them you respect their power instead and chances will increase they will repay by letting you off the hook.

Allan Pease suggests to stoop your body over to make you smaller and approach with palms up pleading not to be booked.
I think that’s too much, you’re not a door mat and that’s a full admission of guilt preventing you to use more powerful tricks (below).

If your infraction is blatant and obvious, there’s little point in denying so you can show both palms up and say “sorry” with your lips.
If your infraction is not so obvious, then only raise your right hand as if you are saying hi and acknowledging their presence.

What you want to communicate here is that you respect the fact that they are in charge and they are the final decision makers.

5. Greet The Officer Respectfully

Say “good day sir” or “good evening officer” and let them talk first, which is another sign of deference because you let him take the lead.

Look at the video below and try to notice what the driver did wrong.

“How is it going” is a dominant display when you don’t know the officer and it feels slightly belittling.

It’s the dominant person who asks questions and the subordinate person who answers.
And it’s the leaders of the pack or the owners of the venues who usually ask people around how they are doing. 

When you take that position, you push the police office to attack back to defend his authority.

You can notice the officer purposefully refuses to answer indeed, which is what you can expect most times in real life situations too.

What should you say then?

Just stick to “good evening officer”.

6. Explain Without Excuses: You Are a Sensible Driver

Why don’t you want to make too many excuse?

First, because too many excuses too quickly, too strongly, will come across as pushing back and will start a dynamic of the officer pushing to book you, and you pushing back.

When two parties push, the strongest party wins, and in this case the stronger party isn’t you.

Also, basic rules of rapport and liking apply to any occasion, and people making too many excuses seem slimy.

What you do then is to first listen to them explain you what was wrong. If it’s not too obvious, you can pretend you didn’t know or didn’t do it on purpose.

Then give them an explanation of why it has happened in a way that shows you’re a sensible person.

Example of Little Excuses

When I overtook a truck after a bend on a double white lines, a rather major infraction, I didn’t just excuse myself a thousand times but communicated that I made sure that nobody was coming from the opposite direction.

Me: “of course officer, I now understand it was an illegal move, I didn’t want to be stuck behind the truck for ever and trust me that I made 100% sure it was a safe overtake, I would never put myself and anyone else in danger. But now I realize it was wrong, I’m sorry about that”.

See what’s the sub-communication here?

It’s that yes, you’ve made a mistake, but you’re an otherwise conscientious driver.

Put that way it looked as if it was me, a sensible driver in a real life situation VS the paper regulation.

Ideally you want them to think they might have done the same in your shoes. After all, those guys also knew the feeling of being stuck behind a truck.

If you can convey a similar feeling and were also non threatening, respectful and friendly -and seem like a cool guy-, chances are very high you’ll get a discount or won’t get any ticket at all.

7. Let Them Teach You Instead of Booking You

If you’re younger, or an inexperienced driver, or are from a different area, you can use that to let them school you a bit.

In my case I listened to the “double line explanation” as I nodded and paid attention.

In the case below notice the guy saying “really?”.

Small but genius move. The police officer was already explaining, so that “really” felt as an encouragement to keep going.
It’s a great way of showing you respect their judgement and want to hear more.

And here’s the key: the more he’ll explain and instruct, the more he feels like a teacher (instead of an enforcer) and the more likely it is that it’s only going to be a verbal warning and not a ticket.

8. Ask For Help: They’ll Forget About the Fine

Another powerful technique is to not only make them feel knowledgeable and in a position to explain, but to make them feel so powerful as to help you.

Example:
My (rental) car was obviously parked in a no parking zone and, to top it all off, the direction was opposite of the incoming traffic direction.

As the officers approached me I was coming off a shop carrying a very heavy package, giving me an obvious extenuating circumstance. I made it obvious the heaviness of the package was straining me and in my terrible German I explained I only parked there for a couple minutes as I couldn’t manage farther away with that package.

I acknowledged the mistake, said sorry, heard their explanation… And then during a moment of silence here comes my power move:

“How do you think is the best way now to drive away from here”?

Of course I would have easily managed on my own, but by empowering them to help me, I made them feel needed and important.

It was a thing of beauty to see the two of them go up-street to block the incoming traffic just to make me drive away without any ticket. Not bad considering I didn’t even have my driving license with me.

9. Become Their Friends

Cops are normal people of course.

And normal people prefer friendly folks.
Plus, cops are likely tired and wary of confrontational folks. As Miller notes, cops deal with bullies and confrontational people far more than non-cops do.

Sometimes their work is boring, too, and they wish they’d meet someone cool to exchange a laugh or a more interesting conversation.

And of course, it’s possible that you’ll meet a chatty one or someone who’s up for a more informal chat.

Don’t force it if they seem more informal and stern, but if it happens always take those chances.
Imagine you were there for a quick chat and forget about the infraction. Chances are they’ll forget too.

10. Use The Law – Only If Strictly Needed

There are tens of videos on Youtube of people “owning” a cop by reciting their rights and refusing to give their ID or to stop recording.

I’m not a big fan of that approach.
One because it fails to see cops as people, and instead frames them as enemies.

And two, because it’s a high-risk approach that immediately escalates the interaction.

Nobody likes to lose a confrontation, so the natural reaction will be to keep escalating as much as possible.
It means that, if you are not fully in the right, chances are high the cop will give you the biggest charge possible -or cause the most troubles he can-. Which, by the way, you’d probably deserve for being such a di**head :).

And if you didn’t do anything wrong, in most cases you’ll get a quicker resolution with a friendly attitude.
There is also some data for approach. Kevin Dutton showed a bunch of cops (unluckily he doesn’t say the exact number) two different videos: one with a confrontational driver, and one with a friendly one.
Then he asked the cops whom they’d give a ticket to, and whom they’d let go. Result? 95% of the cops said they’d write a ticket to the confrontational guy but they’d let the “nice” one go (Dutton, 2014).

This is not to say that you should never enforce your boundaries or escalate, though.
It’s also possible you meet an unreasonable cop, or a rude one. And you might not want to be pushed around (why should you?).

The Power Approach Can Still Be Helpful

Knowing the law, including your rights of filming or not being searched, will always be helpful.

I cannot write much more here because the law varies widely depending on the country, but do your research.
As much as good citizens have nothing to fear from cops doing their jobs, good cops have nothing to fear from respectful people who know their rights.

Summary

The basic principles explained here are the same negotiating principle in Never Split the Difference.

In most situations where you are by default the non final decision maker building rapport, a mutually respectful relationship and making the other person feel good is often the best strategy -for everyone-.

That’s the best way to avoid a traffic ticket.

2 thoughts on “The Psychology of Avoiding Traffic Tickets (Step-by-Step Guide)”

  1. In most parts of the U.S., getting out of the car without being told to do so by a police officer, could be interpreted as an aggressive and threatening gesture. If you are stopped by the police, stay in the car (unless told otherwise) with your hands on the steering wheel. Be courteous and follow directions.

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