Saturday, September 3, 2011

Pulled Over At Night

Dear Madame L,

I just heard about a woman in Malibu, California, who was pulled over late at night on a dark highway. She wasn't sure the person who pulled her over was really a cop (he drove up next to her car and peered in the window before pulling her over, among other things), so she put on her hazard lights and drove slowly about a mile further until she could pull into the parking lot of a store.

Because it was so late at night, the store was closed and the area was dark, so when the officer approached her car she asked if she could drive on to a better-lit area. He informed her that if she attempted to do so he would throw her to the ground and restrain her.

He also fined her $500 in addition to the fine for his original excuse for pulling her over, which was a missing taillight (which she wasn't aware of because she was driving a rental car).

Her experience in court was likewise unfriendly, as the judge ridiculed her and told her that her fears were "irrational" and she was just trying to bring attention to herself.

Have you heard of things like this happening?


Now I'm Worried

Dear Worried,

Madame L has indeed heard of such situations and has found a video about this specific incident that explains the situation very clearly. 

Madame L does not think this woman's fears are irrational, and (possibly predictably, but, oh well!) Madame L believes this woman and all women are right to be fearful of a night-time assault by someone pretending to be a police officer or even by a police officer.

(If you watch all the way to the end of the video, you'll hear some shocking statistics about this. And it doesn't just happen in Malibu, California!)

So: What should you do about it?

Madame L is not an attorney and her advice does not constitute a legal opinion. But self-defense experts say the correct thing to do, if you're in doubt about who is pulling you over, is to drive to a well-populated and/or well-lit area. Still, though, the officer is within his/her rights to issue an additional citation and fine for "failure to yield," and the judge is not incorrect in finding a driver guilty in those circumstances.

Catch-22? Yes, and that's why groups are working throughout the country to get laws changed to make it legal for someone driving late at night to drive on, slowly and with hazard lights flashing, to a safe area before pulling over.

Another suggestion from self-defense experts is to call 9-1-1 on your cell phone, tell the dispatcher your name and where you are, and that a police car is flashing its lights for you to pull over, and request that the dispatcher tell the officer you're driving farther to find a safe place to stop or that the dispatcher send the officer's supervisor to be present when you're pulled over. Madame L thinks these are all great ideas, except for another Catch-22: Pulling out a cell phone to call may be mis-perceived by the officer behind you, too.

One final note from self-defense experts: The attitude of the driver being pulled over is really important. If you're rude and argumentative, the officer may respond in kind. Sad but true. On the other hand, if you try hard to be courteous and respectful to the officer, you will generally be treated respectfully in return.

Stay safe,

Madame L

1 comment:

AskTheGeologist said...

The fears are not irrational at all. Especially for a woman who has been brutalized before.

I'm aware of two criminals (one named Chessman and the other named DeBartelevan) whose M.O.'s were to use flashing lights to pull women over. One just raped them and photographed them so they wouldn't tell the police. The other raped them and then killed them.

If you are driving a car worth less than a $500 fine, then you are at an added disadvantage in that you probably can't afford a lawyer to defend you.

I think that is Catch-24 for women on the roads. One solution is to buy a Bluetooth device that allows for hands-free calling while driving. I believe they are legal in most states and cost less than $100.

Oops. Catch-25.

My bottom line recommendation: listen to how you *feel*. If you feel scared, there is probably some subtle clue not obvious to you that has fired up your subconscience.