Being stopped by police could lead to a warning, a ticket, a night in jail or a tragedy. But several apps aim to empower drivers who see flashing lights in their rearview mirror by informing them of their rights, recording the encounter — and even offering real-time legal advice.
A review released this year of national police data gathered by the nonprofit Mapping Police Violence police found in the US have killed nearly 600 people during traffic stops since 2017.
But having easy access to your rights or legal support can offer a sense of protection during any traffic stop. The option to record allows the driver to have proof of the stop from their perspective — app creators say that’s protection against an inaccurate police account or evidence for a court date. Sometimes those videos go viral.
That’s what happened after Delane Gordon posted video of a traffic stop earlier this year that ended with him being shot by a stun gun. The officer charged him with speeding, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. They were all dropped after the footage was released and went viral on social media.
California attorney Mike Mandell said such apps can be powerful tools, but people should be careful when using them. And the apps are no substitute for knowing your rights ahead of time, he said.
Here are several apps that aim to help drivers during a traffic stop — and tips on how to use them when you’re being pulled over.
TurnSignl offers to connect users to an attorney who has been trained in de-escalation through a live video chat. The encounter with police is also recorded and a copy of the video is saved to the user’s personal cloud.
The app launched in May 2021 is currently available in Minnesota, Georgia, Florida, California, Illinois and Tennessee.
Jazz Hampton, CEO and co-founder of TurnSignl, said the idea to create the app came after the killing of George Floyd and recent reports examining racial disparities in traffic stops. Studies show Black people are 20% more likely to be stopped by police than white drivers and, according to the Justice Department, they are twice as likely to experience threats or use of force by police than white people.
Hampton said TurnSignl aims to balance the power dynamic during a traffic stop but the main goal is to keep everyone safe.
The attorney acts as a third-party mediator to ensure transparency, fairness and respect from both sides to prevent any situation – no matter how serious – from turning deadly.
“If that means rights are violated during the interaction but you follow orders because you want to get home safety, now you have your own recording of the interaction,” said Hampton.
What it promises: Round-the-clock access to legal help and legal advice to remind users of their rights and instruct them how to act.
Keep in mind: The app has only been launched in select states across the US though it’s planning to be available nationwide next year. A TurnSignl subscription is available monthly for $6.99/mo or annually for $60/yr, but services are free for the unemployed and those making less than $40,000 a year.
Created in 2015, the app allows users to add up to five emergency contacts who are notified when the user is pulled over. They receive an exact location and a livestream of the encounter.
Before the end of the year, app creator Mbye Njie said he plans to add the ability to contact a criminal or immigration lawyer in real time.
“The hopes of the app are to be able to make all traffic stops 100% transparent,” said Njie. “The goal is that in the future, all police officers will know if they pull someone over, there will be witnesses and a recording of that encounter.”
Users can also open the app to find a Bill of Rights, pertinent laws in all 50 states and a list detailing what to do if approached by a police or immigration officer.
What it promises: Immediate notification and archived livestream to trusted contacts, who can then assume the role of witnesses during the interaction, all free of charge.
Keep in mind: Real-time legal advice is not available yet and Mandell cautions against reading up on your rights during a traffic stop.
The American Civil Liberties Union, a national civil rights organization, first released Mobile Justice in 2015. The app allows people to livestream interactions with law enforcement to close contacts and their local ACLU chapter. The app also serves as a platform to submit police-misconduct reports for review.
Users also have access to information detailing their rights to take photos and videos according to their state laws.
What it promises: Footage recorded on the app is automatically uploaded to the ACLU’s server to ensure videos are saved even if a phone is seized or destroyed. Mobile Justice is available for free.
Keep in mind: While the encounter can be livestreamed to the ACLU and trusted contacts, no real-time legal advice is available.
How to launch traffic stop apps using Siri on iPhones
Traffic stops are stressful for anyone and the last thing you want to be doing is fiddling with your phone, possibly making a tense interaction worse. Don’t fret. There’s an easy shortcut to help.
For iPhone users, a shortcut can be set up in five steps:
- Launch the Shortcuts app and tap on ‘My Shortcuts’
- Tap on the ‘+’ icon in the top right corner
- Name your shortcut (try something easy to remember, like “I’m being pulled over” or “open TurnSignl”)
- Tap ‘Open App’ under ‘next action selection’
- Select app
To use the shortcut, simply say “Hey Siri,” and the shortcut name: “Hey Siri, I’m being pulled over.”
Some Android users can also use voice commands in a similar way.
For iPhone users who opt not to download an app, a third-party shortcut named “I’m Getting Pulled Over” is available for all those with the iOS 12 update (or any later one). It can be used to record a traffic stop, alert emergency contacts of your location and silence your phone.
Contributing: The Associated Press