Are cops required to use their lights? If not, how is the issue of speeding in a police car dealt with?
November 6, 2006 7:28 AM   Subscribe

Are (U.S.) police required to use their lights when speeding to an emergency or other call of duty?

This may be a stupid question, but I ask because I recently noticed one speed past me and I couldn't help but wonder if he/she was doing so just because he/she could (i.e. no emergency or call). If they aren't required to do this, I guess my follow-up question would be: what accountability, if any, is there for cops exceeding the speed limit unnecessarily?
posted by Stauf to Law & Government (11 answers total)
This is entirely SWAG - but I think the answer in pretty much any jurisdiction is that: 'it depends'.

I believe officers have leeway, depending on the type of call to which they are responding.

I've seen this a few times here in Canada. They will emit a few whoops/siren to get through an intersection, then cruise silenty at high-speed.
posted by jkaczor at 7:31 AM on November 6, 2006

The cops will cruise silently at high speed for two MAIN purposes.

1) They have a call that is URGENT but not an EMERGENCY (i.e. back up another officer on a high risk traffic stop of a known felon) but their supervisor denied them the ability to run with lights on full time because of the very real insurance risk.
2) They don't want to let the bad guys know they're coming... i.e. with a home intrusion or robbery where they'd like to CATCH the guys as opposed to let them know when it's time to run.
posted by SpecialK at 7:34 AM on November 6, 2006

I'm in Canada but the traffic laws tend to be pretty similar here (and in any case, it would be a state law in the US so there might be some variations from place to place)

Here in Ontario, fire trucks and ambulances are exempt from the speed limit laws when on the way to and from a call, and any vehicle (not just a police car) operated by a police officer in the lawful performance of his/her duties. No further requirements (lights, sirens, etc.) are specified. (Higway Traffic Act, section 128, paragraph 13 - link)
posted by winston at 7:40 AM on November 6, 2006

"what accountability, if any, is there for cops exceeding the speed limit unnecessarily?"

When you become a cop, you become part of the club. Membership in this club entitles you to walk away from most (if not all) tickets for things like speeding. Fringe benefits of being in the club sometimes are extended to family members as well.

"Hi Officer X. No I didn't realize I was speeding, I was on my way to see my husband, Staff Sgt. X... do you know him?"
posted by maxpower at 7:57 AM on November 6, 2006

There seems to be a special exemption for police cars, in some places:
(c) Except for an authorized emergency vehicle operated as a police vehicle, the exemptions herein granted to an authorized emergency vehicle shall apply only when audible signals are sounded from any said vehicle while in motion by bell, horn, siren, electronic device or exhaust whistle as may be reasonably necessary, and when the vehicle is equipped with at least one lighted lamp so that from any direction, under normal atmospheric conditions from a distance of five hundred feet from such vehicle, at least one red light will be displayed and visible.
Other places do not appear to grant such an exemption:
6. Emergency lights and audible signals. The operator of an authorized emergency vehicle who is exercising the privileges granted under subsection 5 shall use an emergency light authorized by subsection 2. The operator of an authorized emergency vehicle who is exercising the privileges granted under subsection 5, paragraphs B, C, D and E shall sound a bell or siren when reasonably necessary to warn pedestrians and other operators of the emergency vehicle's approach.[1993, c. 683, Pt. A, §2 (new); Pt. B, §5 (aff).]
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:03 AM on November 6, 2006

What maxpower said. It may or may not have been legal, but who's going to ticket him?
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:05 AM on November 6, 2006

Keep in mind that there are no "rules for U.S. police". There are at least 50 different sets of rules, one per state, and local police also have their own policies.
posted by smackfu at 8:17 AM on November 6, 2006

Also, and this might apply more to ambulances than police cars, but if you're transporting an epileptic, you typically run with lights and sirens off.
posted by aberrant at 8:18 AM on November 6, 2006

I've served on criminal juries in different jurisdictions and I've regularly heard prosecutors ask this of police witnesses: "Did you arrive/respond with lights and sirens on?"
posted by mattbucher at 8:36 AM on November 6, 2006

I think maxpower is just showing some anti-cop biased. His comment seems to be referring to off-duty police officers that have been pulled over in their personal vehicles.

The original post sounds like the poster was passed by a marked police vehicle that was speeding by with no lights & sirens.

That is perfectly legal, and in many situations is encouraged. One of our local traffic columnists had letters about it. The article basically said that when an officer is speeding down the highway with lights & sirens on, people suddenly put down the cell phone, slow down quite a bit, and make very careful lane changes. Stuff that they should do anyway, but they start doing when they see a cop. At that moment, the safe drivers just wind up getting in the way. This is why some agencies (namely CHP) will turn on the rear lights only and haul ass to wherever the situation is.

Fire trucks & ambulances operate differently. When you see an emergency vehicle with lights & sirens going, DMV says "pull over to the right and get the hell out of the way." People react quite differently to police vehicles.
posted by drstein at 11:59 AM on November 6, 2006

Here in the Sacramento area, cops use their lights and sirens in two situations: either they're going way over the speed limit to respond to a really pressing emergency, or they're going through an intersection. It's very common to see a police car turn the siren on just long enough to get through an intersection against the light, then turn it off again when the car is safely through. As I understand it, this is the policy -- whether official or unofficial, I'm not sure -- because studies showed that people get into a lot of accidents in their haste to get out of the way of an emergency vehicle.
posted by Acetylene at 8:59 PM on November 6, 2006

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