Picture of Ted Smith Attorney at Law

When Must You Stop?

On a dark Indiana 2-lane highway a woman drives her car home after a long day at work. Suddenly, she sees red and blue flashing light from the front grill of the car that had been following her. She checks her speedometer and notices that she is driving within the speed limit. Now, the red and blue lights are much closer and its headlights begin to flash. There are no other cars on the road. She is worried and nervous. The driver knows she has not done anything wrong. Her training tells her to stop but a 6th sense urges her on. What should she do?

Indiana law does not allow any city, county or state police officer to make a traffic arrest unless at the time of the arrest the officer is: 1) wearing a distinctive uniform and a badge of authority; or 2) operating a motor vehicle that is clearly marked as a police vehicle; that will clearly show the officer or the officer's vehicle to casual observers to be an officer or a police vehicle. [See Indiana Code 9-30-2-2.]

The lone driver must make an important and quick decision: can she see a policeman's uniform and badge or is the car behind her clearly marked as a police car? If neither is visible, should the driver stop? That depends on whether the car behind her is trying to pull her over or trying to pass her. If the car behind her is trying to pass her, Indiana law requires that she pull over to the side of the road and stop until the emergency vehicle passes. However, if the car behind her is trying to stop her and she does not clearly see a policeman's uniform and a badge or a clearly marked police car then she is not required to stop.

What should a motorist do in that situation? One local police official said that "it is better to drive to a well lighted location if you are uncertain of the authenticity of the stop". That does not mean that you should race ahead. Rather, signal to the car behind you that you intend to drive on. Then drive slowly [remember the police "chase" of O.J. Simpson?] to the place where you feel safe. Where are safe places? Police stations, fire stations, open gas stations. In the end, law enforcement officers are interested in your safety. Act reasonably and you will be treated reasonably in return.