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Authorized Emergency Vehicle?

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Emergency Services Vehicles

Authorized Emergency Vehicle?

Gus Philpott
Woodstock Advocate
January 19, 2008

Have you heard the stories of illegal use of emergency lights on private vehicles for the purpose of stopping drivers? Do you know how to protect yourself, if you are uncertain whether it is really a police car behind you that is signalling you to pull over?

If the red or blue emergency lights are on the roof of the car behind you and the headlights are flashing, too, it's pretty clear that a police officer is behind you. But what if the lights are behind its grill or shining from the area of the windshield? If it's night-time, how do you really know that it is a police car behind you?

On Thursday night in the Woodstock Library parking lot was a dark blue or black Ford Crown Victoria four-door sedan with what looked like a blue emergency light mounted in the center of the dashboard. Wisconsin license 755 MGY (rear plate only; no front plate). There was a pushbar on the front bumper and a spotlight on the driver's side. My guess is that it was a retired police vehicle.

Emergency lights on most private vehicles in Illinois are illegal. It's possible that this vehicle is registered as an emergency vehicle in Wisconsin. Perhaps it is owned by a volunteer firefighter or a reserve police officer authorized to display emergency lights.

If you find bright lights in your future, such as those red and blue emergency lights so popular on police cars and if you have reason to doubt that the lights are on a police car, do not stop in an isolated spot. Slow down, so that it will be obvious that you are not attempting to evade him. Signal by hand that you will be pulling over. Find a well-lighted place to stop, such as the parking lot of an open convenience store or other place with people present. Or pull into the parking lot of a fire station or police department.

If this is a concern for you, ask a police officer in your community for suggestions as to what to do to indicate compliance but also to keep yourself safe.

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