SIKESTON -- With Memorial Day weekend approaching and the "Click it or Ticket" seatbelt campaign in full swing, area motorists should take note there is a right (and wrong) way to comply with the law if they are ever pulled over by a law enforcement officer.
"Whenever a motorist is stopped by an officer, pull over to the right as far as possible and put the vehicle into park," explained Lt. Jim McNiell, commander of the Troop E Service Center in Sikeston.
Motorists should also keep their hands in plain view and their hands on the steering wheel, McNiell said.
"One thing we watch for is any sudden movement in vehicle -- by an occupant or driver," McNiell said. "A lot of times the movement can be them reaching for license or proof of insurance or registration, and other times we have people who are hiding contraband and alcohol, and they don't want to be caught with it."
Anytime there is unusual movement, motorists are opening the option for their vehicle to be searched, McNiell warned.
For those who have a conceal-carry permit, New Madrid County Sheriff's Deputy Austin DeLisle advised, "Just tell us first if you have a concealed weapon in the vehicle before you start moving around."
Traffic stops provide major officer safety concerns for law enforcement officials because they don't know the intent of the motorists or occupants, McNiell pointed out.
"They are really a dangerous area for us," McNiell said. "We have no protection and safety other than our good training and watching for tell signs."
Of course nighttime raises other concerns. For safety reasons, patrol officers use a special light to highlight the vehicle. The light also blinds the motorist, and at the same time lights up the vehicle's interior.
"By lighting the car up, it puts the vehicle at a disadvantage, McNiell said. "We're not trying to be rude, but until we're sure what we have, the spotlights will stay on."
And on the flip side, motorists should know the warning signs of someone who may be impersonating a police officer. While it's not common, McNiell said the area has had that problem before.
If someone is pulled over by an unmarked car with a dash light, and the officer isn't dressed in full uniform, then those should send some red flags, McNiell said.
"If it's a fully marked patrol car, motorists can feel confident it is a law enforcement officer," McNiell assured. "If there is any degree of concern of their safety, they should stay in the car, but lock the door and crack the window a little and ask for an ID. Most law enforcement officers should have some type of ID."
If a person still feels uncomfortable, dial *55 on their cell phone for the highway patrol.
"And be sure to report it. If you still don't feel right, try to get a license plate and we'll follow up on it," McNiell said.
Along with the "Click it or Ticket" campaign, which is an aggressive seatbelt enforcement effort taking place now through June 6, more motorists will be hitting the highways as the summer travel season begins this weekend.
"Memorial Day is generally the first major summer holiday," McNiell said. "We really see a lot of people out on the roads so people should get plenty of sleep before driving. Buckle up and don't drink and drive."
Travel with plenty of gas and make sure the spare tire is properly inflated, McNiell suggested. Make sure to have the proper jack and lug wrench that goes to that vehicle. Prior to leaving on a trip, have a mechanic check belts and radiator fluids, he said.
When it comes to traveling, it's often blowouts and hot temperatures that put vehicles to the test, McNiell said. Many times motorists won't have the appropriate spare tire or will drive on a spare tire until it goes flat, he said.
"If you get a flat tire on your car, immediately go get that flat repaired," McNiell advised.
There are two big things that can help make driving safer: wearing a seatbelt and not drinking and driving, McNiell said. Twenty-five percent of all fatal accidents involve alcohol and some go together with not wearing a seatbelt, he added.
McNiell said the bottom line is to look at those two major statistics because they significantly increase a person's chances of being alive if involved in an accident.
"We want people to have a good vacation, but want you to be able to get to your point of destination and return home safely," McNiell said. "I've seen too much over the years where a family starts out and gets involved in a wreck, and it spoils their vacation. Just be patient out there."