What to do When You See Police Lights Behind You

Police car with flashing lights
Terry Evans
Terry Evans, University Apartments Community Police Officer

What to do When You See Police Lights Behind You

Have you ever been driving and all of a sudden you see emergency lights and sirens behind you? Do you know what you should do? When you see police or emergency (fire or ambulance) lights behind you it could mean one of two things. 

Accidents and Emergencies

In the event of an accident or emergency, first responders (police and/or fire) will need to get to the area quickly. Flashing lights and/or sirens will indicate vehicles need to get through. If your car is blocking them from getting to the scene, you should pull over to allow them to get by you.

In the U.S., when you hear a siren or see flashing red and blue lights, you should slow down and pull over as far to the right as you can to allow emergency response vehicles to get by. Once the responders have passed by, you may pull back into the flow of traffic. If while sitting at a traffic light you hear sirens or see lights, check to make sure you are not blocking the emergency vehicle from getting through the light. They will take the least occupied lane, so even if you are in the right lane, if they continue approaching in that lane, move over wherever you can to allow them to pass.

Even if you have a green light and plan to cross into an intersection, when you hear sirens or see flashing emergency lights, pause to see if they will need to go through the intersection. Give way to the emergency vehicles regardless of the traffic light indicators.

They Are Trying to Stop You For A Violation

If you see police lights flashing in your rearview mirror, you should slow down and pull over to the side of the road as soon as safety allows. If the police officer simply wanted to get past you, you can pull back into the road after the vehicle goes by.

However, if they stay behind you with their lights and sirens on they are attempting to stop you for a traffic violation. Pull over to the side of the road as soon as safety allows. Remain in the vehicle. Do not get out and walk back to the police car, wait for the officer to come to you. The officer will approach your car along the driver’s side. Keep your hands where the officer can see them and lower your window to speak to them. The first thing you will probably be asked for is your license and registration. Give the officer your driver’s license, which you should always carry with you and the car’s registration, which you should always keep in the car.

The officer will likely take your documents back to his/her vehicle to verify them. An on-board computer or radio conversation with the police station will check your license for any outstanding warrants, and make sure the vehicle you are driving has not been reported stolen.

The officer will return to you with your documents, wait in your vehicle until they do so. The officer will either give you a warning or a traffic ticket. If the officer writes you a ticket for a traffic violation, you will need to take a copy with you, and then you can resume your drive.

If you have any questions about what to do when you see emergency lights or want to know more about what happens on a traffic stop please feel free to contact me.

Written by Terry Evans, Officer Terry Evans, University Apartments Community Officer (Email: terryevans@wisc.edu, Twitter: @UnivAptsUWPD, 608-265-5717 or 608-262-2957)