If you’re a new driver, it’s natural to look to the more experienced drivers in your life for advice on how to deal with police, avoid getting a traffic ticket, and not get in trouble. But as with many things in life, you shouldn’t believe everything you hear, even if the intentions are good. Many experienced drivers have had flukes of luck happen to them on the road that forever skews their idea of what is and isn’t legal. Your more “experienced” friends might also be perpetuating an urban legend rather than passing on a pearl of wisdom. Believing these myths could end up getting you in trouble, costing you money, and could hurt your driving record or even your freedom!
There are nuggets of wisdom that you should certainly check out here, though, to find out which common urban myths regarding police officers and cop cars are true, and which are debunked. You should probably know the law, at least a little bit, if you’re going to be on the road. It’s always a good idea to know your rights and options. While some urban legends are harmless, others can put you in even more trouble than you might have been in, in the first place.
Myths and stereotypes about cops and their vehicles make the rounds year after year—some of them picking up steam and then fading away. Every year it seems there are some new ones that make the spotlight, so let’s talk about them.
Here are 16 common urban legends about cops and cop cars.
16 Unmarked Cop Cars Can’t Pull People Over
The idea that unmarked cop cars can’t pull you over is not only untrue, but it happens all the time. Many states and municipalities use unmarked police cars for conducting traffic stops, and they’re highly valued because they blend in with regular traffic. They often help police take down speeders and other traffic law violators, especially when the perpetrator is unsuspecting. There are many non-standard cruisers, typically called “plain brown wrapper” enforcement vehicles. It’s good to acclimate yourself to what they typically look like in your state, even though it’s really hard to miss them when they have their lights blazing.
15 What To Do When Stopped By An Unmarked Police Car
If you’re getting pulled over by an unmarked vehicle that doesn’t have red and blue lights, you should be cautious. Especially if the driver isn’t in uniform, how can you tell it’s a cop at all? If you suspect you’re being pulled over by an imposter, follow these tips: 1) As soon as you’re pulled over, activate your four-way hazard lights, which tells the officer you’re complying. 2) Drive safely to the nearest public area or police station (imposters won’t follow you there), and if it’s nighttime, make sure the area’s well lit. 3) Dial 911 and ask a dispatcher to verify that an officer is attempting to pull you over. 4) If an unmarked cruiser is operated by a plainclothes cop, you may request that a uniformed officer responds to the scene.
14 Cop Cars Have To Be Crown Vics
This isn’t true at all, that cop cars have to be Ford Crown Victorias. While they may still be the most common police vehicle on the road, they’re slowly being replaced with faster, newer vehicles. After all, the Crown Vic went out of production in 2012. Modern police vehicles can be Dodge Chargers, Ford Mustangs, SUVs, trucks, etc. In fact, the 2009 Mustang GT with the 4.6-liter V8 engine, gray paint, aluminum wheels, and black racing stripes is a common unmarked police cruiser. It looks totally civilian (until its special lighting package fires up), and it’s fast. They typically have high-intensity LED lights mounted behind the windshield, too, so if you spot one of those, know that it’s an unmarked cruiser.
13 There Are Unadvertised Numbers To Dial To Speed Dial Police Dispatch
Unfortunately, this is not true: that there are unadvertised numbers that will speed dial police dispatch. Don’t think there are because it could put you in a dangerous situation if you’re in an emergency. Urban legends claim that people can dial #112, #667, or #77, thinking they’re unadvertised, direct-dial speed dials to automatically connect to the nearest police dispatch operator. None of these numbers work nationwide. However, some states do have unique, specific phone numbers that motorists can use to contact law enforcement. Generally, police agencies recommend drivers dial 911 in an emergency, accident, or if you believe you’re being pulled over by an imposter officer.
12 Crooks Impersonating Cops Is Rampant
We’ve all seen the movies, where someone goes out, gets pulled over by an imposter officer, and gets snatched up or worse. It can make us very suspicious if we’re getting pulled over ourselves, especially if it’s happening at night and there aren’t many people on the road. But Officer Frank Zielinski of Grosse Pointe Farms in Detroit, Michigan says, “The crime of impersonating an officer is rare. What we usually see is that when it happens in the suburbs, it tends to be somebody on a power trip. They might pull someone over, act like a cop, give the citizen a warning, and send them on their way.” (via Autoblog.com.) But robberies, car-jackings, and worse have happened.
11 Our Dodge Charger Is The Same As the Cops’ Dodge Charger
This urban legend doesn’t just apply to Dodge Chargers, but to any standard vehicle a citizen might ride. Cop cars are uniquely specialized versions of the vehicle type they are, such as a customized Crown Vic. Police pursuit vehicles, the most common cop car, are designed with speed and maneuverability at heart, and pursuit vehicles can quickly outrun most standard cars that you’ll find at a dealership. In addition, specialty vehicles are often deployed for a variety of missions, including SUVs that can travel through harsh terrain or dangerous weather conditions, and special service vehicles such as armored trucks and modified, big-engine sports cars.
10 The Primary Goal Of Cop Cars Is Power
Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t true. A cop car’s primary goal is not to have the most power on the road. Even though these cars contain engines that will outperform most common vehicles on the road, without much effort, that’s not all they’re looking for when choosing a police vehicle. While most car buyers are looking for fuel economy, longevity, and dependability as the chief factors for purchasing a car, cops are looking for cars that can endure a lot of abuse, that can rapidly accelerate, that can force other vehicles off the road, and that can idle for extended periods of time. The primary goal of police cars isn’t power, it’s durability.
9 Differences Between Cop Cars And Regular Cars
With that in mind, here are some of the main differences between police cars and their regular counterparts:
1) The engines of police cars are always high-performance engines, often striking a balance between V6 engines with high fuel economy, though some are equipped with the stronger V8.
2) Upgraded coolers with large radiators and fans, to overcome the threat of engine overheating in high-speed pursuits.
3) The seats are heavy duty.
4) The lights, radio, and other equipment in place require a lot of power, so they have powerful alternators to keep up.
5) Most cop cars are equipped with run lock ignition, allowing the car to keep running without a key in the ignition.
6) A reinforced suspension system and enhanced brake pads because of the extra weight of the vehicle.
8 Cops Have Ticket Quotas
This is one of the most common urban legends about cops out there: that cops have ticket quotas that they need to meet every month, which is why they seemingly pull over more people and write more tickets toward the end of the month. This isn’t true. The other part of this myth is that tickets are just a way to generate revenue. Firstly, most states have outlawed ticket quotas. Secondly, where they do exist, it’s something being forced upon law officers by lawmakers, and not by choice. And if you think it’s about money, just know that cops are making the same wages no matter what—they don’t get a bonus for writing a certain amount of tickets.
7 The “Amnesty For 18-Year-Olds” Myth
Here’s one that might discourage quite a few younger people reading. The idea here is that on your 18th birthday, all unpaid tickets prior to that date will be torn up and forgiven. If only! Things are obviously never that easy in life. Turning 18 means many new rights, responsibilities, and privileges, such as voting and being considered an adult in a court of law. But it doesn’t give you a clean slate. Wouldn’t that be cool, though? According to Lieutenant Randy Gagne of the Camden, Maine police department, your speeding and parking tickets will not be torn up the instant you turn that magical age. (via Edmunds.com.)
6 Cops Have To Show Their Radar Reading
Cops do not have to show you their radar gun reading when they pull you over for speeding, though many people believe they do and threaten to sue when their request is denied. A police officer is not obligated to show you the radar gun if they’re asked to do so—this is totally false. There is no law in any state that requires the officer to show you the radar or laser gun to see your reading (it’s like forcing them to show you your BAC after a breathalyzer). Furthermore, any request to see it will probably only irritate the officer and be declined. In the end, most people know when they’re speeding.
5 Tickets For Driving Barefoot
Not really sure where this urban legend comes from, that you can be ticketed for driving barefoot, but it’s probably from a beach town in California. The “Driving While Barefoot” might sound as severe as a “Driving While Intoxicated,” but it doesn’t even exist. There is no state that regulates proper footwear for operating a motor vehicle, with the exception of Alabama, where it is prohibited to drive while barefoot. One has to wonder what went down in Alabama for that law to be enacted! Several states, however, explicitly recommend (but do not mandate) the use of shoes while driving. That doesn’t mean everyone follows the mandate, of course.
4 It's Possible To Keep A Ticket Off The Record By Overpaying
This is a bizarre one, and probably came about from a mistake at court one day where someone’s ticket was magically forgiven, and then it became the stuff of legends. The idea here is this: When you get a speeding ticket, pay the fine by sending a check through the mail, but instead of paying the exact amount, pay a little bit more. According to the legend, the check will be cashed and they’ll send you a refund for what you overpaid. Then, if you tear up the refund check instead of cashing it, the points will never show up on your license because the case remains open until all financial transactions are complete! Sounds like the perfect crime, but it’s a total hoax. The points automatically appear on your record as soon as you’re found guilty of speeding.
3 The “Out Of State Ticket” Myth
This is an urban myth that will bum a lot of people out when they discover it’s not true: that moving states will clear you of any traffic citations or unpaid fines on tickets you owe. It might be true that your parents won’t find out about your driving misdeeds, but your insurance company from your home state will never forget. Jason King, a spokesman at the Association of Motor Vehicle Administration says that all states, with the exception of Michigan and Wisconsin, are part of the Non-Resident Violator Compact or the Driver License Compact, where states share driver license information with each other. Even though Michigan and Wisconsin are not official members, they still share info with other states.
2 Red Cars Receive More Speeding Tickets
There’s a common misconception that red cars are biased for cops—that red cars tend to receive more speeding tickets than any other colored car, because of their flashiness. There’s also a theory that red cars create an optical illusion that makes them appear to be going faster than they really are, due to their color. These are both fascinating ideas, but totally false. According to Carolyn Gorman, VP of the Insurance Information Institute, “There is no data to support the assertion that red cars receive more traffic tickets than cars of any other color.” (via Edmunds.com.) Still, it’s so widely believed that it has spawned more red car biases, like the one below.
1 Red Cars Have Higher Insurance Rates
Many people shy away from buying red cars because they believe that the color of the vehicle will cause your insurance rates to skyrocket higher than rates afforded to cars of any other color. However, some studies have suggested that red cars are involved in a disproportionate number of accidents, according to Carolyn Gorman. “There are no major insurance companies that consider the car color when determining your rates. People with good driving records and who also drive safe vehicles typically have the lowest car insurance premiums.” (via Edmunds.com.) That being said, superstitions are very powerful, and that’s probably why you see less red vehicles on the road than other colors.
References: edmunds.com, autoblog.com, proctor.com, policeone.com