Stopping for a Police Officer (or other Emergency Vehicle)

In a DWI investigation, an officer will sometimes testify that the vehicle was “slow to respond” to the officer’s emergency equipment. The slowness in response is often presented in court as evidence that the driver was impaired. After all, a sober person, it is thought, would respond immediately to the officer’s emergency equipment.

It’s important, however, to note that a driver is only required to pull over in response to an approaching law enforcement vehicle North Carolina when the officer gives a signal by an “appropriate light and by an audible bell, siren, or exhaust whistle”.

If the officer testifies that he merely turned on his overhead lights and expected the driver to pull over, that is likely not sufficient under North Carolina law to require the driver to comply. Consequently, if the officer says the driver was slow to respond, that would be true if the officer sounded his siren or other audible equipment.

See NCGS 20-157:

NCGS §20-157. Approach of law enforcement, fire department or rescue squad vehicles or ambulances; driving over fire hose or blocking fire-fighting equipment; parking, etc., near law enforcement, fire department, or rescue squad vehicle or ambulance.

(a) Upon the approach of any law enforcement or fire department vehicle or public or private ambulance or rescue squad emergency service vehicle giving warning signal by appropriate light and by audible bell, siren or exhaust whistle, audible under normal conditions from a distance not less than 1000 feet, the driver of every other vehicle shall immediately drive the same to a position as near as possible and parallel to the right?hand edge or curb, clear of any intersection of streets or highways, and shall stop and remain in such position unless otherwise directed by a law enforcement or traffic officer until law enforcement or fire department vehicle or public or private ambulance or rescue squad emergency service vehicle shall have passed. Provided, however, this subsection shall not apply to vehicles traveling in the opposite direction of the vehicles herein enumerated when traveling on a four-lane limited access highway with a median divider dividing the highway for vehicles traveling in opposite directions, and provided further that the violation of this subsection shall be negligence per se. Violation of this subsection is a Class 2 misdemeanor.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.