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Ask a Trooper: Why do troopers approach from traffic side during stops?

Sgt. Neil Dickenson

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: Which side the officer approaches during a traffic stop comes down to personal preference. Officers are trained in both approaches, and they both have their advantages and disadvantages.

From all of my training and experience in traffic stops, it comes down to one important element: personal safety.

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

Passenger-side approaches have proven safer for the officer if the vehicle stopped is ever struck by a passing vehicle.

Other benefits I've noticed are a greater view of the vehicle's interior and the driver's area of reach, as most people are right-handed.

The advantages an officer has from a driver-side approach include the ability to detect or smell if the driver is under the influence of alcohol and it is also easier to hear and speak to the driver.

Send your questions concerning traffic related laws or issues in Minnesota to trooper@duluthnews.com or Sgt. Neil Dickenson – Minnesota State Patrol at 1131 Mesaba Ave., Duluth, MN 55811.