During Traffic Stops CA Police Will Not Ask You This Question

June 20, 2024

A common thing to hear from police during a traffic stop across the nation “Do you know why I pulled you over?”

Well no longer in California.

That’s because of a new state law that came into effect on Jan. 1. 2024.

Assembly Bill 2773, passed in 2022 by the state government and sponsored by Assemblymember Chris Holden, D-41, now requires an officer making a traffic stop to “state the reason for the stop before asking any questions” — and the reason also needs to be officially documented in any reports that officer makes. The law also extends to pedestrian stops.

One exception is if an officer “reasonably believes that withholding the reason for the stop is necessary to protect life or property from imminent threat.”

The assembly member claims the goal is to “to promote equity and accountability in communities across California” and that the new law “brings transparency to service of protecting our public.”

Will this new law help protect driver’s rights or make it harder for police to do their jobs? The debate is on.

A Little Background On AB2773

AB 2773 is intended to limit what are called “pretext stops” — when a police officer pulls a motorist over for a minor infraction, like a broken taillight — to be able to then search the vehicle for illegal items like drugs.

Several studies were used to also gain insight as to who was most affected by these stops:

A 2022 report concluded that Black individuals made up almost 13% of traffic stops — despite only making up 5% of California’s population (PDF).

The nonprofit organization San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) found that Black motorists across California are far more likely to be stopped by the police than their white counterparts.

Another study shows evidence that California Traffic Penalties Are Highest in US and Disproportionately Affect Black and Latinx Drivers, Report Finds. Further, California also has some of the highest traffic penalties in the country, with some even exceeding $200 over a small speeding ticket.

What is the exception to the new law?

To give law enforcement a little flexibility, one of the exceptions to AB 2773 is when an officer “reasonably believes that withholding information for the reason of the stop is necessary to protect property or life right from imminent threat.” Only in this instance is a police officer exempted from giving a reason for a traffic stop under this new law.

Tips to handle a California traffic stop

If you’re pulled over by the police while driving in California, you can ask the officer why you are being pulled over — and then wait for an explanation.

What if an officer still does not give a reason?

In the case that an officer does not give a reason for the stop, depending on the situation, it might be best to invoke your right to remain silent and ask to speak with an attorney.

What if the officer wants to search my car?

As a motorist, you are protected against “unreasonable searches and seizures” under the Fourth Amendment, and an officer would need a warrant to search your car. Again, depending on the situation you may want to exercise this right and not consent. In this case, the office would need a warrant unless they have probable cause. If they had probable cause they would likely be searching the vehicle already and not asking for consent. 

If it seems you’re going to be arrested, it’s generally always a good idea to remain silent. 

What if I’m arrested or get a citation?

The first thing you should do is speak with an experienced traffic ticket lawyer at The Ticket Clinic. Since 1987, we have been resolving all traffic cases and can quickly help you determine the best course of action. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Your license may be at rist.