Dangerous enough to report?
October 8, 2017 7:07 AM   Subscribe

Is there anything that a person can do when they see another driver do some really questionable stuff? Should I call the police non-emergency line?

Just this morning I saw a car run straight into a big orange construction cone – and I don't mean an accidental misjudgement and graze, the very center of their front bumper smacked the cone hard enough to knock it over, then they backed up and went around the construction area. They then half-ran a red light: drove partway into the intersection, then backed out. I realize you can't tell whether someone is drunk just by looking at them but when I pulled up next to them at the red light they didn't seem drunk, just slightly agitated.

Is there anything that can be done when you see somebody doing stuff so bizarre that you're not sure they should be driving? Should you call the police non-emergency line and give them the license plate number? I'd say I see behavior like this once every month or two and always think about calling but never do (okay not quite this bad but bad enough to make me want to call). I worry it's a waste of the police's time and they'll brush it off with "there's idiots all over the road." I also don't want to make a call while driving if it's going to be useless because talking on a cellphone while driving is not exactly the most responsible behavior, so I don't want to call if it's pointless.

(I'm in the USA if it matters)
posted by Tehhund to Law & Government (24 answers total)
 
I call 911 If an idiot is behaving dangerously on the road. It’s life-threatening and time-sensitive. Don’t downplay it.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:13 AM on October 8 [21 favorites]


I've called 911 about such incidents a couple of times, but I very much doubt that anything ever came of it. The chances of a cruiser being nearby and able to find the driver in question seems like a long shot.
posted by jon1270 at 7:13 AM on October 8


Yeah, I have called 911 when a driver almost ran into me and then was dangerously weaving all over the place and running up on the curb and then overcorrecting. I have called 911 when a driver decided to road rage on me by passing me on the left and then cutting in front of me and slamming the brakes on, coming to a full stop on a highway because he perceived I had not let him in appropriately.
posted by Stewriffic at 7:16 AM on October 8


Seeing this kind of shit too often is why I really must get around to installing my dashcam. Maybe not admissible in court, but could easily make the difference between a report being taken seriously by police and just being blown off.
posted by flabdablet at 7:19 AM on October 8 [1 favorite]


911. It might do nothing, but it might save someone.
posted by flourpot at 7:25 AM on October 8


I live in a medium-sized town in VA. Have a scanner for the city and county police departments frequencies. I would wager that at least once per night I hear the dispatchers put out a BOLO for a "reckless driver" that appears to come from a citizen report. So.....people do exactly what you are talking about. And probably via 911.
posted by kuanes at 7:25 AM on October 8 [4 favorites]


Call 911.
If the driving was remarkable to you, it is likely remarkable to law enforcement.
posted by sciencegeek at 7:40 AM on October 8 [1 favorite]


The behavior you describe would probably qualify as reckless driving in New York. The 911 dispatcher probably wouldn't send anyone after a reckless driver, but if you're able to give a sufficiently specific description (i.e., license plate number) the dispatcher can put out an APB so that, in theory, police officers who happen to encounter this vehicle later will stop it. In theory, the driver could be charged and convicted based on your testimony. I say in theory because my impression is that there are lots of departments where this is not a priority for whatever reason (police under-staffed, most traffic passes through without stopping, just don't care).
posted by d. z. wang at 7:43 AM on October 8


I posted this in another AskMe back in 2012:

One Saturday night last summer, I was driving on a highway in Connecticut and saw a driver all over the road. It was heavy traffic, and he almost struck several cars (myself included) and almost went into the barriers a few times.

I've never known what to do in this situation, certainly never called it in, but it was so bad that I decided to do something. I honestly didn't think the police would take me seriously, or if they did, do anything about it. But I called 911, told the dispatcher what I had seen and that he appeared to be driving drunk. I had his license plate, and was able to give it to her, along with a description of the car and driver.

Dispatcher asked me to put on my flashers and try and stay with the vehicle so I could let her know where he was going. I did it, and kept giving her directions when he got on another highway, etc. I was probably with him for about 10-15 minutes when I heard her talking over the radio to a police officer: "He's coming up on you in a few minutes... being followed by a blue SUV with his flashers on... this guy has been reported a shitload of times, and we can finally get him off the road."

After hearing that last sentence, I no longer have any doubt in my mind what to do when I see a drunk driver on the road.

posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 7:43 AM on October 8 [56 favorites]


I have called 911 in this situation, when I saw a vehicle swerving up on a curb and then realized the driver wasn’t stopping even with a blown out tire. The police took it seriously enough that they later came to my home and requested I write a witness report. Later, I saw in the police blotter that the driver had been arrested for DUI. I’m very grateful I called.
posted by We'll all float on okay at 7:51 AM on October 8 [3 favorites]


get a dash cam, then you have evidence
posted by patnok at 8:25 AM on October 8


I always call 911 in situations like that.
posted by limeonaire at 8:48 AM on October 8


It's the 911 dispatchers' job to decide what's important enough or not to follow up on. You're not wasting their time in reporting something.
posted by lazuli at 9:02 AM on October 8 [6 favorites]


Where I live (Bay Area, California) there are literally signs along the highway urging people to report drunk/reckless drivers by calling 911.
posted by primalux at 9:17 AM on October 8 [4 favorites]


The multiple 911 calls about a reckless driver were very helpful in the case after he killed two of my family members. Call 911.
posted by sockermom at 9:40 AM on October 8 [11 favorites]


You can always pull over to stop and then call the police. I don't call while I am driving either.
posted by maurreen at 9:45 AM on October 8


Cars are lethal weapons and you could easily save lives by reporting unsafe driving. As several of the above answers have pointed out, you might be one of multiple calls the police are receiving about this driver and yours might be the one that ensures they take action or gives them an actionable location.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 9:58 AM on October 8


I always call 911 in these situations and it's always taken seriously. They want to know the license plate, a description of car and driver if possible, where you saw them, what they were doing, and what direction they were headed.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:21 AM on October 8 [1 favorite]


A semi ran me off the road as I was passing on the highway. I was extremely shaken, no injuries to me or my car, but I pulled off at the next exit which happened to have the state highway patrol office. The officers said they couldn't do anything since there was no property damage or injury so basically to beat it.

It makes sense to call 911 to report problems but it doesn't mean they will or can do anything.
posted by waving at 11:31 AM on October 8


I pulled over and called 911 when an 18-wheeler in front of me was swerving from shoulder to shoulder at 70+mph on a rural state highway, and the operator seemed to consider it an emergency. When I caught up to the truck a few minutes later, he had driven through someone's front yard, then pulled off into a field to pick the tree branches and other debris from his mirrors.
posted by bradf at 12:14 PM on October 8


I'd always wondered whether calling 911 in these situations would do anything, but just a couple of months ago this one vehicle nearly sideswiped me repeatedly on 680. It was terrifying. Then they did the same thing to the guy in a work truck in front of me. I saw him making a phone call, and just a short time later, a CHP officer pulled up next to the guy in the work truck, rolled down the window, asked a few questions, and took off. A few minutes later, I went around the curve to see that the vehicle had been pulled over.

I'm an advocate of calling the police as little as possible, but in this case, it seems like the risk to everyone is already pretty high and it's time to call. (There's also a not-insignificant chance that the driver is having a health emergency and needs help.)
posted by wintersweet at 2:15 PM on October 8 [1 favorite]


I have done this twice, both times semis/b-doubles wandering well off the road onto the shoulder multiple times, same highway too! Both times I got a positive reception, no sense that I was wasting their time. Never knew what the result was though.
posted by GeeEmm at 2:39 PM on October 8


I also call 911, and it's absolutely the dispatcher's job to triage what reports are coming in and make the call about tracking the guy down or not. They know how busy the department is, they know how dangerous various roads are, they can make the decision about whether it's worth police time at that instant. The last two I reported, one was a guy texting and driving, and ALL OVER THE ROAD, on a pretty isolated patch of rural interstate. He was in my sight for about 20 minutes after I called, and no cop had come, so I'm guessing no state police were within reasonable distance for dispatch to get them there. (On the other hand, if he flipped into a ditch or caused an accident, my call with his plate number would serve as evidence of his reckless driving, so at least there was that.)

The second one was a super-high-end green sports car driving on in-town roads LIKE A DICKHEAD and when I called and started describing the car, the dispatcher said grimly, "OH THIS GUY AGAIN" and I could hear the sirens approaching before the light changed.

When I call I always begin with the road and which direction ("I-73 northbound" or "Eastbound on Main Street, just past 1st Street, near the Shell station."), then describe the car, then describe the behavior. So they're like "911, what's your emergency?" and I said "I'm calling to report a reckless driver heading eastbound on Main Street, just past 1st Street. It's a blue Pontiac Sunfire, license plate BST-1130, male driver. He just ran the stop sign at Angle Avenue, and he keeps drifting into the oncoming lane, and speeding up and slowing down erratically." I give them as much info as I can -- I don't know much about cars so sometimes I can't tell the model if I'm not close up, and I definitely never know the year. They always seem glad to get the call and I think if you're a 911 operator sometimes it's a relief to get a call that's for a problem that isn't a catastrophe yet.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:23 PM on October 8 [1 favorite]


Call 911. Description of the vehicle, description of the driver if you saw them, plate number if you can get it without endangering yourself or others.

It might not be a drunk driving thing; it could be a person struggling with health issues, physical or mental. No matter what, I believe that it is my responsibility to call 911. Lives can be in the balance, including the life of the driver. It is to me a very serious issue.

I also call 911 if a person is wandering in or close to the road-way and/or acting irrationally. A couple of years ago I called in a guy sitting on the railing of the bridge over the Colorado river here in Austin, facing toward the river. I do not know if he was suicidal, but it didn't look good. It is extremely difficult to get emergency mental health care here in town. I have thought of this man often. I hope that he is okay.
posted by dancestoblue at 9:38 PM on October 13


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