Are you legally required to leave your car when a police officer tells you to do so?

If you ask police if you are under arrest and they say no then I dont see a reason why you should?

Maybe if they have a warrant to search your car. Im more interested in the rules of random traffic stops when you are not under arrest and there is no warrant to search your car.

Im also interested if refusing to vacate your car gives police probable cause to search it?

  • Although some grammatical constructions might not be imperatives per se, a statement that is construed by a reasonable person as an order is required. For e.g., “I need you to step out of your vehicle” was decided, and deemed to be an order.
    – kisspuska
    Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 9:48
  • Related, and potentially relevant: Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106 (1977) and Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 408 (1997)
    – user35069
    Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 9:54

1 Answer 1


If we are talking about an otherwise legal traffic stop, the supreme court has ruled that with reasonable suspicion they can order you out of your car and pat you down for weapons. They will claim it is for their safety. In practice, this is very easy for the state to prove. See cases in the comment by Rick (Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106 (1977) and Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 408 (1997), but there are many others as well, e.g. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968).

  • If they pat you down and find nothing can they still search your car? Could you elaborate on what the difference is between a legal and illegal car search?
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 19:34
  • @Neil Meyer Maybe it is better to pose that as a separate question. The key to the 4th amendment is that the search is allowed when it is reasonable. So the exact nature of how you refuse and what happens next could make a difference. Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 20:13
  • 2
    @NeilMeyer there is practically nothing you can do in the face of police orders except obey and sue them later if the orders were bogus. In terms of what they are allowed to do, the range of things allwoed by police by the USSC is extremely vast. You can always not consent to a search, but there are plenty of ways they can get around it ("I smelled marijuana" is a common ploy).
    – Tiger Guy
    Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 22:11

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