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When can authorities search your car during a traffic stop?

During a traffic stop in New York, the law enforcement officer who pulls you over may ask if he or she may look around your vehicle. While, in some cases, you may have to allow the search to take place, in others, you have the right to refuse the officer’s request. Understanding when you may and may not refuse the officer’s request to look through your car may make the traffic stop less stressful and get you on your way that much faster.

According to, a law enforcement officer may not search your car simply because he or she wants to, or because he or she has a hunch you engaged in some sort of illegal behavior. The officer instead must have some type of evidence or proof that something unlawful occurred to search your car without your permission.

Understanding what constitutes probable cause

Smelling something illegal coming from your vehicle during a traffic stop may give the officer who stops you valid grounds to conduct a search without your consent. If a witness stated that you did something illegal or have something illegal in your car, this may also constitute probable cause. If the officer has reason to believe a vehicle search is necessary for his or her own safety, this may also give him or her legal grounds to move forward with the search.

Understanding what happens when there is no probable cause

Unless the officer has probable cause to move forward with the vehicle search, you maintain the right to say no to the search request. If you exercise this right, tell the officer who stops you in a clear and concise manner and then ask if you may leave.

If you exercise your right to refuse the search, be as polite and courteous as possible when stating your refusal.