Ask a Trooper

Question: When troopers pull over a vehicle, why do they approach it on the traffic side rather than the passenger window?  I have observed some other law enforcement agencies approach from the passenger side and thought it made sense from a safety perspective.

Answer: Officers are trained in both approaches, and both have their advantages and disadvantages. The side the officer chooses during a traffic stop generally comes down one important element –safety.

As a Minnesota State trooper, most of my traffic stops occur on the freeway or on state highways, where high speeds from passing vehicles is a real safety concern.

Passenger-side approaches have proven safer for the officer if the vehicle stopped is struck by a passing vehicle. Other benefits to this approach include a greater view of the vehicle’s interior and the driver’s area of reach, as most people are right handed. It also gives the officer a larger area of escape if the officer needs to retreat in an emergency.

The advantages an officer has from a driver-side approach include the ability to detect/smell if the driver is under the influence of alcohol and because it is easier to communicate with the driver.

On most of my traffic stops, I approach on the passenger side because I feel safer from traffic. A few years ago on a traffic stop, an approaching vehicle’s passenger-side mirror grazed me while I was on the driver’s side of a stopped vehicle on I-35. This was a great reminder of how dangerous a routine traffic stop can be.

Each year, more than 20 Minnesota State Patrol vehicles are struck by drivers who are distracted, fatigued, impaired, or who lose control on slippery roads by travelling too fast for road conditions.

Please slow down and move over for all emergency vehicles and vehicles with flashing lights. Not only is this a safety issue, it is the law in Minnesota.

You can avoid a ticket — and a crash — if you simply buckle up, drive at safe speeds, pay attention and always drive sober. Help us drive Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths.

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