Motorcycle Traffic Stops

Tips for staying safe and sound when stopping a motorcyclist

By Scott Hughes  |   May 7, 2015

Spring is here and the flowers are blooming in many parts of the country and the highways are once again abuzz with motorcycle enthusiasts. After the chill of winter, a day of sunshine on the open road is just what many of us need. With increased motorcycle traffic come increased motorcycle infractions.

Although motorcycles present unique challenges to police officers, when initiating a traffic stop on a motorcycle, officers should use the same principles they apply to passenger cars: notify dispatch and provide pertinent information (license plate, type of bike, color, description of occupants, etc.) and select a strategic (and safe) location to make the traffic stop. Once you’ve done the basics, then proceed with your traffic stop using the following tips—in addition to what you already know.

Approach: When possible, approach the motorcycle on the right side, similar to a passenger-side approach on a vehicle. Approaching on the right side significantly decreases your chances of being struck by a passing vehicle and provides you with some tactical advantages as well. (Note: I won’t discuss tactical advantages, in detail, on the internet). Keep in mind that the passenger-side approach may not be permissible due to terrain, guardrails and other obstacles. Therefore officers should be comfortable with both driver- and passenger-side approaches.

Upon making contact with the operator, the officer should ask the operator to shut the motorcycle off and remove the key. The obvious reason for doing this is to prevent the operator from fleeing, but it will also remove engine noise.

Helmet: When dealing with the operator, or passengers, have them remove their helmets. Asking the operator and passengers to remove their helmets allows you to more effectively communicate with them. This simple request will also allow you to look for signs of impairment by checking their eyes and noticing odors of alcoholic beverages, etc.

Having the operator remove their helmet also gives them a potential weapon. You may ask the operator to take the helmet off and place it on the handle bars. I personally like the operator holding onto the helmet because it occupies their hands—but that’s just me, and it varies with the situation.

Dismount: You many encounter situations where you will need the operator or passengers to dismount their motorcycle. When asking the operator to dismount consider having them dismount on the right side, also known as “safe side” or high side. Again, this keeps both you and the operator away from passing traffic and also gives you some tactical advantages.

Be mentally and physically alert when the operator dismounts the motorcycle and be aware of your distance and reactionary gap. Statistically, more officers are injured and killed five to six feet away while making an arrest. Be aware of where you’re standing in relation to the operator as they dismount.

Additional Considerations
Many operators will carry their identification, proof of insurance and registration in various compartments on the motorcycle. Be aware that these compartments are ideal for the storage of weapons. Before asking an operator for his or her license or other paperwork, consider first asking: “Where is it located?” If they indicate that the requested information is stored in a compartment, be aware of your location in relation to that compartment and proceed with caution.

Motorcycles can be great fun. But for a traffic cop, they can be a challenge. What challenges do you face? Leave a comment below or on our Facebook page. More importantly, stay safe.

More information can be found by attending a TNT: Tactics in Traffic class, click here for a schedule of upcoming classes or find out how to host a class at your agency.

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Scott Hughes
Chief Hughes holds a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership from the University of Charleston and is a graduate of The Supervisor Training and Education program as well as The Police Executive Leadership College. Scott is also a graduate of the 133rd FBI-LEEDA Command Institute and is a certified Law Enforcement Executive (CLEE). Chief Hughes is an active member of the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police where he serves on the education committee.