What To Do When The Blue Light Appears
by Allen C. Brotherton
The roadways of North Carolina are patrolled by many different law enforcement agencies, including the state highway patrol, municipal police departments and county sheriffs’ offices. They use a great variety of patrol cars, but all have one thing in common: a blue light to signal to motorists that the officer is demanding that the motorist stop his or her vehicle. So when you look into the rearview mirror, see the flashing blue lights and hear the siren, what should you do?
N.C. General Statutes § 20-157(a) requires that “Upon the approach of any law enforcement or fire department vehicle or public or private ambulance or rescue squad emergency service vehicle giving warning signal by appropriate light and by audible bell, siren or exhaust whistle, audible under normal conditions from a distance not less than 1000 feet, the driver of every other vehicle shall immediately drive the same to a position as near as possible and parallel to the right-hand edge or curb, clear of any intersection of streets or highways, and shall stop and remain in such position unless otherwise directed by a law enforcement or traffic officer until law enforcement or fire department vehicle or public or private ambulance or rescue squad emergency service vehicle shall have passed. Provided, however, this subsection shall not apply to vehicles traveling in the opposite direction of the vehicles herein enumerated when traveling on a four-lane limited access highway with a median divider dividing the highway for vehicles traveling in opposite directions, and provided further that the violation of this subsection shall be negligence per se. Violation of this subsection is a Class 2 misdemeanor.” Pulling your vehicle as far to the right as possible will help give the officer room to safely walk beside your vehicle. Make sure you are away from any intersection. You will notice that, contrary to conventional wisdom, you should not stop at or near the entrance to a side street.
In addition to the legal requirements, there are some additional practical steps that can make the encounter much easier and safer for both you and the officer:
- When driving, have your license and registration handy. The officer will usually ask for these items immediately. It helps you to be on the ball.
- If you are being stopped at night, most officers do not mind your proceeding to the next well-lit area. Simply reduce your speed and turn on your flashers to acknowledge the officer and let him know your intentions.
- Once stopped, if the stop is at night, turn on your interior light.
- Keep your hands on the steering wheel where the officer can see them until he or she approves their removal. Do not make any sudden movements or reach for anything until asked by the officer to do so.
- Do not exit your vehicle unless and until the officer directs you to do so. In general, pay close attention to the officer’s commands.
Also, you should understand your rights. In particular, while it is almost always counterproductive to be anything other than polite, you do not have to answer an officer’s questions (other than to produce your license, registration and other similar matters), you do not have to submit to roadside testing, and you do not have to consent to a search of your person or vehicle. You should not lie to the officer, but it is acceptable to simply and cordially decline to answer. Do NOT argue with the officer.
Finally, don’t forget that the law requires action of motorists in the vicinity of a traffic stop even when they are not the involved with the stop. 20-157(f) provides that when an emergency vehicle
is parked or standing within 12 feet of a roadway and is giving a warning signal by appropriate light, the driver of every other approaching vehicle shall, as soon as it is safe and when not otherwise directed by an individual lawfully directing traffic, do one of the following:
(1) Move the vehicle into a lane that is not the lane nearest the parked or standing authorized emergency vehicle and continue traveling in that lane until safely clear of the authorized emergency vehicle. This paragraph applies only if the roadway has at least two lanes for traffic proceeding in the direction of the approaching vehicle and if the approaching vehicle may change lanes safely and without interfering with any vehicular traffic.
(2) Slow the vehicle, maintaining a safe speed for traffic conditions, and operate the vehicle at a reduced speed and be prepared to stop until completely past the authorized emergency vehicle. This paragraph applies only if the roadway has only one lane for traffic proceeding in the direction of the approaching vehicle or if the approaching vehicle may not change lanes safely and without interfering with any vehicular traffic
Effective July 1, 2006, violations of this subsection can lead to a $250 fine and, if an accident occurs causing serious injury, can be prosecuted as a felony.
Following these tips can often help you avoid any charges at all. Even if you are charged, treating the officer with respect will help your lawyer help you in court.
Allen Brotherton has been representing people charged with crimes, including traffic violations, for over 19 years. For more information, go to www. knoxlawcenter.com or call 704-315-2363 or 866-704-9059 (Toll-free).
How Can We Serve You?
Fields with * are required.