By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
Traffic stops are no fun irrespective of your sex — but probably, they’re a bit more stressful (and potentially dangerous) for women than for men — especially at night and especially when the stop takes place on a rural/not-well-traveled road… and it’s just you and the cop.
If it is, in fact, a cop.
There are creeps out there with cop-style wig-wag lights built into the grille of their vehicle — just like a legitimate unmarked car. Realistic-looking fake badges are easy to get, too. Women have been assaulted by thugs pretending to be cops who use this gear to effect a “traffic stop.”
Here’s what you should know about this deal — and some things to keep in mind, too:
1) If you honestly weren’t speeding, didn’t run a light or commit another traffic infraction, be wary if out of the blue and for no reason you can think of a flashing light appears in your rearview.
Though there are cops who are jerks, usually, you don’t get pulled over for no reason at all. And if you do get pulled, it’s almost always because you’ve done something obviously wrong. So, if you do get pulled over at random, be on your guard. In particular, if it is late at night and you’re not on a well-traveled road.
2) Your “threat level” should notch up again if the car doesn’t look right.
Most cops drive standard-issue cruisers; typically, large sedans like the Ford Crown Victoria, Chevy Impala and Malibu and (recently) the Dodge Charger. Some departments use SUVs such as the Chevy Tahoe — but these are much less common. It’s rare to encounter a cop driving an unmarked coupe; never a luxury car, import sport-compact or anything old and ratty.
3) Ditto the look of the cop himself.
If he’s unkempt, doesn’t behave professionally (asks strange questions; creeps you out) he might not be the real deal. Use your intuition — and heed common sense.
4) If you are stopped, it’s your right to ask to see the officer’s identification; a real cop will not have a problem showing it to you.
Take a good look; the photo should match the person. If the “cop” is not in uniform and just “flashes” his badge — not allowing you to have a good look — be concerned. Something’s not right.
5) If you’re uncomfortable, keep your window rolled up and your door locked.
However, you should turn off the engine and put the vehicle in “Park” to assure the cop — if he’s real — you’re not about to flee. Explain your concerns; again, if it is a real cop, he will be understanding — or should be.
6) If the officer is not in uniform and not in a marked car — and you are uneasy about the situation — ask that an another officer be dispatched to the scene.
This may not make the cop happy, but it is the smart move if you suspect something’s not right. Use your cell to dial 911 if you feel threatened; tell the operator that you have been just been pulled over but are not sure whether the person who pulled you over is a real cop. You may be creating some hassle for yourself – assuming it’s a real cop and the stop is legit. But if it’s not a real cop, you may have just saved your own life – or saved yourself from being assaulted.
7) In the worst case — a weirdo playing cop is definitely after you — try to get to a very public, well-lighted place as quickly as possible.
It’s better to risk a real ticket by speeding and driving however you have to in order to get away from a violent predator. Honk your horn, make noise — make a scene. If you have a cell with video capability and the situation allows, try to film the creep. Ring friends (and 911) and tell them everything you can about the other vehicle (make/model, color, tags, anything unusual about it, etc.) as well as a description of the “cop.” Again, it’s better to trust your intuition and be wrong than to ignore it — and end up really wrong.
8) Finally: Be prepared to defend yourself if need be.
Women are, in general, at a huge disadvantage in terms of relative strength. Most men can easily overpower most women. Learning a few self-defense moves (martial arts training is great for this) is a great idea; so is keeping an “equalizer” in your purse — whether it’s pepper spray or a firearm. In the case of the latter, get trained, learn how to safely handle a weapon and how to shoot straight; many states allow concealed carry. If you are comfortable handling a gun, keeping one with you when driving alone could be a lifesaver — literally.
The politically correct “wisdom” is that it’s good to be a passive victim and cooperate with the scumbag who is trying to assault you. But that is a great way to end up dead in the trunk of your own car — or in a ditch by the side of the road. In some situations, there is no one there to help you but yourself — and whatever means you have available. Use them to the fullest extent.
Scary? Sure. But the alternative’s a lot less appealing.