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Ask a Trooper: Why troopers approach vehicles from different sides

Q: 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.

A: 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 and approaching vehicles.

As a Minnesota 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. It also gives the officer an increased safety 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 it is also easier to hear and speak to 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 on I-35. This was a great reminder for me on how dangerous a routine traffic stop can be.

In recent years, annually the Minnesota State Patrol averages over 20 patrol vehicles that 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.

To keep everyone safe, always wear your seatbelt, drive distraction free, drive the speed limit and always line up a sober ride.

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. You can follow him on Twitter @MSPPIO_NE or reach him at neil.dickenson@state.mn.us.