The other night I was out patrolling when I witnessed a blue Saturn come careening down a hill without it's headlights on. I followed the car and lit it up. The car slowed down to 15 mph but did not stop. Suddenly I was in my first pursuit. At 15 mph. I followed the car for 3 city blocks, calling out it's location and direction of travel. Finally it came to an intersection and stopped at a red light. I approached the car and she started to open her door. I closed the door and told her to open her window. Something was not right. I didn't get the "I'm a criminal vibe," from her. She was a short Chinese woman who had a confused look on her face. She cracked the door open again and leaned out to speak to me. Her English was good,
"Are you pulling me over?" she asked.
"Yes. Did you see my lights in your rearview mirror? Did you hear the siren?"
"Yes, but I thought you were trying to get by me."
"No, I was trying to get you to pull over because your headlights are out."
"No they're not!"
"Ma'am they are."
"No they're not!"
I asked her to step out of her car and take a look for herself. She stepped out onto the sidewalk and pointed to her running lights.
"See! I told you they were on!" she shouted, pointing at her amber running lights.
I motioned to her headlights and explained that those were the headlights and were required to be on at night. She started explaining to me that she only used those lights during the day so that people could see her. She attempted to justify running without them on at night when she said,
"If I turn these on at night I will blind everyone and cause accident!"
I told her to get back into her car. I held the door open for her as she complied and rolled the window down.
"Put your hands on the steering wheel at a9 and 3," I instructed. Surprisingly she understood this concept and obeyed. "Okay, now do you see this lever on the left?"
She nodded her head. "I want you to turn the dial at the end of it so that the line is on the little headlight." She turned the dial and her headlights came alive.
"See how bright they are officer? I blind everyone if I leave these on," she protested.
"Hold that thought ma'am. I want you to now push the lever out away from you until it clicks. The high beams erupted.
"oh," she gasped.
"Now pull the lever back to towards you and see what happens." She complied and the lights went dimmer. I reached inside and pushed the lever again. "These are what's called your high beams." I clicked the lever back again, "these are your low beams. Look around. See all these cars driving around us?"
She nodded her head.
"They are all using their headlights. When there's nobody around you can use the high beams. When on coming traffic appears, you need to switch to your low beams. Your high beams might blind someone momentarily but your low beams won't hurt anyone."
She looked totally dejected. I could tell the fight was gone from her and she looked up at me.
"I am so sorry officer. I thought I was following the rules."
"Have you ever been pulled over before?" I asked.
"No, never," she responded.
"Okay, now that we've cleared the headlights matter up I need some information." I asked for the usual documents and instructed her not to get back out of her car. Dispatch confirmed that she was a college student from China, and everything came back clear. I returned to her car and began lesson number two.
"Okay, is this a new car?" I asked.
"Yes I just got it one month ago."
"Okay, do you know how to use your windows?"
She looked at me sheepishly, "no."
"Okay, this button rolls your windows up and down. When you see red and blue lights in your rear view mirror," I pointed to her mirror, "you need to slow down, pull to the right and stop."
"But what if he wants to talk to me?" she asked.
"If the officer is stopping you, you'll know because he'll walk up to your window. If not, then he'll drive by you, grateful that you got out of the way."
"Okay," she said, seeming to grasp the concept.
"Now if an officer stops you, you need to roll down your window so you don't have to open your door to talk to him or her."
"You want me to stay in my car? I thought I would help by talking outside of my car."
I shook my head and she looked even more dejected as the realization came to her that she had the wrong idea of what cops in the United States wanted.
"You need to stay in your car for many reasons. If you get out, you could get hit by another car and we don't want that. We want you to be safe. So stay in your car. It's our job to walk back and forth so let us serve you. All you have to do is just stay in the car and wait for us to do what we need to do. Okay?"
I could tell she was starting to feel a little better. She struck me as the kind of person that truly wanted to "follow the rules," and was devastated to learn that she had not been. I wondered how she ever obtained a license but it was valid and she was committed to driving with her headlights on.
"Okay, this is your first traffic stop. So now that you understand the rules, I'm going to let you go without giving you a ticket. I think we've made some real progress tonight wouldn't you?"
She nodded in relief.
"All right, you drive safe okay?"
I got back in my car and watched as she drove away. I never thought that I would be giving someone an impromptu drivers ed class on how to use your headlights and how to handle being pulled over. When she started to get out of the car, all my combat instincts seemed to go on alert but it was quickly clear that she was not looking for trouble. This was definitely one of my weirder traffic stops so far.
I hope she does better with her PhD. classes then drives.