So I was browsing Reddit earlier and came across this video of someone on a motorcycle lane splitting in New York (which is illegal there), when a police officer swerved into the path of the rider to stop them and pull them over. But before the biker could get out of the middle of traffic, the police officer had already taken the bikers keys without asking for consent.

So in short, my question is this: Is a US police officer (New York specifically) allowed to take your car/ bike keys without asking for consent first?

If this is state specific, it would be awesome to see a list of states where this is legal/ illegal

Edit: I should've mentioned that, yes, taking the key to ensure the motorcycle is immobilized and cannot run (as motorcycles/ motorcyclists tend to do more oftencitation needed) is probably the reason as to why. But I'm not asking about why the police officer did it

  • 3
    If the officer could impound the bike, then yes he can take the keys. Of course it's also possible that he took the keys to temporarily immobilize the bike until he wrote the ticket, and returned the keys after doing so. Commented Sep 21, 2020 at 16:23
  • The driver failed to follow simple directions twice: lane splitting is illegal in New York and they did not shut off their bike when an officer told them to. So presumably they will fail subsequent directions. The officer was clearly trying to secure the scene. law.stackexchange.com/a/3561/1175
    – MonkeyZeus
    Commented Sep 22, 2020 at 15:28
  • 1
    @MonkeyZeus, that first one wasn't a direction given by the officer. (It matters, because for many, breaking a law in a way that doesn't harm anyone might be quite different from actively disobeying a policeman.) For the second, it's a bit hard to hear both the order to turn it off and the engine noise from the video, but it's there, the brup-brup from the engine clearly cuts well before the policeman gets at the key (at about 0:09) in the video.
    – ilkkachu
    Commented Sep 22, 2020 at 19:29
  • On my car, if an officer takes the keys, I can still start the car unless he or she moves a few meters away from my car. Usually my car keys are in my trouser pockets all the time and I never take them out. I can even drive away, but then I won't be able to start again because my keys are not there.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Mar 18, 2022 at 9:59

1 Answer 1


The policeman ordered, right as he took a step out of his car "Turn it off!" - which is a lawful demand to prevent the biker from possibly kicking the gas and running. As the driver did not seem to comply (from the policeman's PoV) during his walk over to the bike, he enforced the order himself by turning off the bike and confiscating the key for the moment. Having made it safe that the driver couldn't leg it, he guided traffic around him so he could get to the side of the road.

We don't know what happened after the driver reached the curb to be lectured and/or arrested, the bike could be impounded or the confiscation might be temporary. So all we can do here is discuss the action of demanding that a motor vehicle be turned off, the doing of such and taking the keys. Demanding a vehicle to be shut off is standard procedure in police stop, as it is ensuring the safety of everybody involved.

In a somewhat recent case (trying to find it again!), a driver did not shut off the car and had to stand on the brake to keep it where it was. As commands came conflicting (keep your hands where we can see them, get out of the car!) and he could not comply or the car would jump forward and ram somewhere, things escalated and the driver was shot.

But back to the first step. Was the stop lawful? ACLU in NY tells us:

  1. Police may stop and briefly detain you only if there is reasonable suspicion that you committed, are committing, or are about to commit a crime.

  2. Don’t bad-mouth a police officer or run away, even if you believe what is happening is unreasonable. That could lead to your arrest.

There was a crime committed: Splitting is illegal in NY (among others: Section 1122, overtaking on the right), so the stop was justified under NY CPL 140.50. From my own experience, it is not uncommon for bikers to try to evade police by swerving back into traffic and using their higher mobility to get away. On its face, this makes it reasonable to demand the bike be shut off as the policeman advanced, and I'd like to congratulate the officer for taking the less escalating step and just turning the bike off himself on the noncompliance instead of drawing his gun and possibly escalating it to a use of force.

Most lawyers suggest to drivers pulled over to do things akin to "After you brought your car to a complete stop [on the curb], roll down your window and shut off the engine". Like this one.

Possibly confiscating the keys might be an overreach by the policeman, but the demand to turn it off clearly is not.

  • 3
    I suppose even the remote possibility of the motorcyclist starting the engine and driving away (or worse) would probably justify the temporary confiscation of the keys in the eyes of most judges. They tend to be deferential, and it's not a huge imposition on the motorcyclist's rights.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 21, 2020 at 19:22
  • 8
    "Demanding a vehicle to be shut off is standard procedure in police stop, as it is ensuring the safety of everybody involved." If cops are going to go around shooting people, then not being able to get away quickly is contrary to safety. Commented Sep 21, 2020 at 23:52
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    @Acccumulation They're being shot due to a (mistaken) belief that the driver is trying to pull out a weapon. The last thing you want to do is drive away, since once the officer realizes it was a mistake, you'd want to be next to a first responder instead of driving away with a potentially lethal injury Commented Sep 22, 2020 at 0:17
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    @phoog: Realistically, even if the officer was in the wrong, they'd probably get off on qualified immunity anyway.
    – Kevin
    Commented Sep 22, 2020 at 2:15
  • 3
    @MindSwipe on a car, leaning on to take the key exposes the neck and back to whatever the driver might want to do - in a traffic stop, a policeman is in his almost most vulnerable position, trapped between traffic and your car. That's why they demand to see your hand, so you can't start the car again.
    – Trish
    Commented Sep 22, 2020 at 8:31

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