Do you know what the six most simple and important words to use during a traffic stop?
“Am I free to go now?”
The NMA said this In the NMA E-Newsletter #176 from May 2012, and we still say it in 2020. When an officer(s) pull you over for a traffic violation, they should have no reason to detain you beyond writing you a ticket or a warning. When this is done, you should keep saying the six essential but straightforward words, “Am I free to go now?” Asking this question is important during a traffic stop, a checkpoint, and a roadblock. Say it firmly without emotion because you want the traffic stop to end as soon as possible.
(Editor’s Note: the rest of this blog comes directly from NMA E-Newsletter #176—the information and videos below are still pertinent.)
The phrase, “Am I free to go now?” should find its way into nearly any roadside interaction you have with police. If you choose to answer questions at a traffic stop (be careful when doing so), one strategy is to end every answer with “Am I free to go now?” It’s an assertion of your rights, and it may prevent a routine stop from escalating into a more serious situation.
The video below shows what can go wrong when a motorist doesn’t assert his rights. The officer stopped the car on the flimsiest of pretenses and proceeded to manipulate the driver into consenting to a full-on vehicle search complete with a “drug-sniffing” dog.
How many times could the driver have said, “Am I free to go now?” and potentially extricated himself and his passenger from this harrowing experience?
Note also how the officer tried to manufacture reasonable suspicion by claiming the passenger appeared nervous—a ploy likewise repudiated by the Delaware decision. The whole dynamic is reminiscent of a used car salesman manipulating a buyer into a bad deal.
Now watch this video in which a motorist challenges U.S. Border Patrol officers at an immigration checkpoint in Arizona. His choice of phrases differs slightly, but the intent is the same. Notice that he does not get distracted by the officer asking him questions. He stays on task and accomplishes his objective: getting through a roadblock without undue harassment.
To carry the salesperson analogy a little further, this driver asserted control over the transaction and never relinquished it. And he prevailed. If you go this route, remember to remain calm and don’t provoke the officer.
Will the Six Simple Words speed you on your way every time? Perhaps not, but they will demonstrate that you have exercised your rights, which may prove valuable should your traffic stop lead to subsequent legal proceedings.