This morning during my morning commute, a black vehicle came up behind me and started flashing lights from the front grill, looking for all the world like an unmarked police vehicle.  The lights were flashing in sequence, left to right, and he was right on my tail.  I thought I was being pulled over so even though there was no place to get off the road, I pulled over as far to the right as possible and stopped.  What I thought was a police black SUV went around and kept going.  As it went around, I saw it was an un-official black pick-up with very un-official stickers on the back window.  It was impossible to know that though looking in the rear view mirror. 

No one was going to slow down to let me re-enter the lane so it took 5 or 6 cars before I could continue.  When the incident occurred, there was a marked patrol car in front of me, and as I got back on the road the officer in the marked patrol car put on the blue lights and pulled the truck over.  I hoped that he got a ticket for impersonating a police officer, and anything else that could get tacked on, but that wasn’t the case.

I called the local police department after I got to work and reported the incident and asked what advice they had to offer in such cases.  The officer that pulled the truck over had seen the grill lights flashing and said the truck had halogen lights in the front grill which had shorted out and were blinking randomly (in sequence left to right) as they pleased. If the driver knew the lights were shorted out, why had he not repaired them???

I asked if the city used completely unmarked vehicles and was told, “Yes, we do”.  When I asked how I was supposed to know if it was an official vehicle I was told to call 911 and ask the dispatcher if an officer was attempting to stop me.  Jeez Freaking Louise – is it worth the revenue generated from traffic citations to put a city’s residents at risk of being pulled over by some maniac?

Now I wonder, how does one identify an official vehicle?  Or more importantly, know that a vehicle is not an official police vehicle?  In these times of murder, kidnapping, etc. no one, especially no woman, wants to pull over for some impersonator.  Anyone who is not in law enforcement and installs such devices on their vehicle to give the appearance of being so is up to no good. 

A convicted felon in South Florida recently rigged up a vehicle to look like an official vehicle and even had a fake badge, and was only caught when he inadvertently pulled over a vehicle with an actual officer at the wheel who recognized him for what he was. 

The following comment is taken from an interview by Nicole T. Lesson with the South Florida Sentinel.  “Acknowledge they are there, put the flashers on, drive to a well-lit, populated area and travel below the speed limit,” said Davie Police Lt. Bill Bamford. “When you do pull over, crack the window and tell them you are not giving them any information until a marked car is here. Keep your doors locked.”  Drivers were also told to ask for a photo ID when pulled over.  Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by seeing one, however, as any teenager with a computer can fake a photo ID. 

Those cautions are well and good if you’re in a vehicle and can lock the doors, but what if you’re on your bike and are completely vulnerable? 

Using such vehicles is becoming common as cities and even small towns add unmarked cars to their fleet in order to go unnoticed and pass out more traffic citations.  Some may be like the one from this morning and have no markings other than the lights that flash in the grill, while others may simply say “___City Police Department” on the side.  To complicate matters, depending on your state’s laws, officers driving these vehicles may or may not be in uniform.

It is very easy for anyone to rig a vehicle to look like an official police vehicle – the items needed can be bought from magazines or on the internet.  Why is there no regulation on selling these items? 

There are documented cases of officers in unmarked cars attempting to pull someone over and the driver followed the precautions given here only to find themselves handcuffed by actual officers because they didn’t pull over immediately.  That shows stupidity on the part of the officers, but I find that preferable to possibly stopping for an impersonator.

The only thing I learned from this experience, is if a vehicle that does not have blue lights on top attempts to stop me again in my car, I won’t stop unless it is in a clearly visible area, in the daylight, and there are people and other vehicles present, and still call 911 before rolling down a window or opening a door.  Even then, it is risky business. 

In such a situation a motorcycle rider’s only safety mechanism may be to keep going until there is a gas station or other public area with people milling about where you can go inside to a phone or get to your cell phone to dial 911 and inquire if you’ve been stopped by an actual officer.  Heaven help you if it’s not because at that point you are completely vulnerable. 

With this morning’s experience, the words RIDE SAFE took on an all new meaning, and I want to share the advice, especially with fellow female riders.