Woop woop! Is there a more unsettling sound in life than that? Hearing those sirens winding up behind you has to be worse than hearing creepy sounds in the night, worse than babies crying, worse than hearing your toilet fail to flush, worse than being dragged to a local blues-rock jam band’s show and listening to them do a bunch of lame Stevie Ray Vaughn covers.

Here’s the bad news: if you get pulled over, the officer is already about 66% decided on whether they’re going to give you a ticket or let you off with a warning this time. Being polite may help sway the officer on that last 34%, but they’ve usually made up their minds.

That said, you do have rights when you are pulled over, and you do have options when you get ticketed. Here are five things they won’t tell you, that you need to know, when you see the red and blues in your rearview mirror:

They Only Ask You to Step Out of the Car as a Precaution

When a cop asks you to step out of the car, it’s usually only as a precaution. If you’re out of the car, it’s tougher for you to pull a weapon on them. You don’t have to step out of the car… but it’s usually a good idea if you do. Unless you feel particularly threatened, stepping out of the car will make the whole ordeal go by much more quickly. Luckily, stepping out of the car is not the same thing as consenting to a search. Speaking of which:

When Can a Cop Search Your Car?

There are only six circumstances where an officer is allowed to search your car:

  • You’ve consented to a search.
  • They have a warrant.
  • You have drugs, a weapon, something of that nature in “plain view.”
  • You’re being arrested.
  • Exigent circumstances, meaning they can see you trying to destroy evidence.
  • Probable cause. If an officer sees blood on the seat or something like that, then they have reason enough to suspect a crime.

Don’t Admit to Nothin’!

Admitting that you broke the law is a confession. Be agreeable but don’t confirm anything. You can answer a question like “Did you know you were speeding?” without escalating the situation or confessing. Try a genuinely concerned “Was I?” It works better than “No I wasn’t! Get lost!” and it won’t incriminate you like “Yeah I sure was and I’m real sorry about it.”

“Fear is the Mind-Killer”

What we often forget when being pulled over is that a police officer is putting their life on the line every time they turn on those sirens. We want to think of them as heartless bullies hiding behind the badge, but the truth is, they don’t know what sort of weapons you might be carrying or if some drunk is going to run them over on the highway. Be polite, be friendly, and above all, prove to the officer that you’re not a threat. Keep your hands at ten and two, let them know that you’re just reaching for your wallet, and you’ll be able to put the officer at ease and possibly keep a bad situation from getting worse.

Fighting a Ticket is Tough, But…

When you try to fight a ticket in court, you’re going to fail nine times out of ten, even if you make some really good points before the judge.

But, fighting a ticket isn’t the only way to handle it without paying the full amount.

Signing up for a defensive driving course may help you in two ways: you can have your ticket reduced, or eliminated entirely, and you may be able to avoid having the DMV file a report that your insurance provider will read.

Long story short: you’ve got rights and you’ve got options. Hearing the siren whirring up behind you isn’t always the end of the line.