A huge portion of my cases begin with a routine traffic stop. The single best thing you can do to avoid police contact is obey every single traffic law.
At least half of what you do in your car is probably illegal. Crack across the windshield? Rosary hanging from your rearview mirror? Those can obstruct your vision in violation of Vehicle Code sections 26710 and 26708 (a) (2), respectively. Did you remember to use your turn signal? Are all of those tiny lights above your rear license plate working? Is your “full and complete” stop close enough to the real thing so as to not get pulled over?
The answers to these questions matter more than you think. In California, many “fine-only” infractions are still “crimes” in the technical sense. It its zeal for 18th-century standards for treating prisoners and the accused, the Supreme Court of the United States has found it reasonable under the Fourth Amendment to arrest, strip-search, and imprison a person so long as there is probable cause to arrest for some sort of state crime, regardless of how “minor” the criminal offense.
And so going 5 miles per hour over the speed limit in a residential zone can provoke a severe–and wholly constitutional–intrusion into your personal freedom. Note that this severe outcome may or may not be likely for you, depending upon your income-level, skin-tone, general attractiveness, and/or criminal record. However, just because there are disparities in the justice system doesn’t mean you should expect your “desirable qualities” will get you off the hook. Lady Justice isn’t blind but you can’t assume she will close her eyes to your shenanigans just because you smile pretty and talk real good. All of us are only one “misunderstanding” away from a misdemeanor.
I’m not implying you should drive around paranoid. In the vast majority of cases, the officer will do the typical thing and “detain” you for so long as it takes to write you a traffic ticket for something you probably shouldn’t have been doing. But even so, the length of a typical traffic stop is plenty long enough for the officer to notice what other obviously illegal things you–or your passengers–are up to. If my client knew he was one “California stop” away from going off to prison for the rest of his life, I’m sure he would have driven a bit more carefully.