Imagine driving late at night on a deserted road. A car with blue lights pulls in behind you and signals for you to pull over. It may be a police officer or it could be a criminal intent on inflicting massive bodily harm and then taking your car.
I find both situations equally scary. Criminals are scary, for obvious reasons, but it’s not like the cops have the best reputation in South Africa either. But let’s leave that out of the equation this time round and assume that getting pulled over by a police officer is a harmless experience.
So what do you do? Under the assumption that it’s a police officer, you’re forced to stop, but what if it’s a criminal? You could gamble with the law of averages, which will most likely work in your favour, but don’t forget that around 250 blue-light crimes have been committed in South Africa. Still like those odds? When it comes to gambling with your life, it is most likely just not good enough.
So you end up driving on slowly, which will make the officers behind you very angry. Or you’re stuck with criminals, which I assume will act out even more violently than police officers. Either way, you end up in a seemingly dangerous situation.
After the Blue Light Brigade issue recently came under the spotlight on Carte Blanche, the national commissioner of police, Riah Piyega announced that a special unit has been established to investigate the 250 complaints. You’d think they’d have set up this unit after number 10, but at least it’s something.
Still, it doesn’t solve the issue of how to avoid getting shot at when you refuse to pull over. Luckily, the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) and Justice Project South Africa (JPSA) have developed a protocol for members of the public. If ever you find yourself in a blue-light situation, follow these steps:
• Indicate that you wish to proceed to a police station or public place before stopping
• This may upset the police and escalate the situation, so when you indicate for them to follow you, you must stay calm, slow right down, turn your hazard lights on and then extend your right arm out of the window and gesture for them to follow you
• Drive at no more than 40km/h and proceed directly to the closest police station or public place with working CCTV cameras
• Don’t drive to your own home or a friend’s home as this might endanger their lives
• If you have a cell phone, call 10111 and explain the situation. You can also ask the operator where the closest police station is. If possible, give the operator the registration number of the vehicle following you as this might help establish if it is a legitimate officer or not
• If there’s no one outside the police station, hoot for as long as it takes for someone to come out. Stay in the vehicle with the windows wound up and the car in gear
• Cooperate fully with the police from that station and explain that you felt intimidated and therefore proceeded to the station without pulling over
• If you go to a petrol station or something similar, drive to the centre of the station in full view of the cameras. Cooperate with the police and explain that you felt intimidated and therefore proceeded to the petrol station
• Do not respond by shouting and remain calm. Doing anything that can be considered a potentially violent act will end in tears, whether it’s a criminal or a police officer
• If you follow these steps exactly and they start shooting at you, do everything possible to get away without endangering yourself or others.
The document then goes on to state that the public and genuine police should feel comfortable with this protocol as it offers protection from an attack in an isolated place by moving the stop to a public place where witnesses and assistance should be around.
So why don’t I feel safer? I applaud the RTMC and JPSA for supplying these tips, but there are a few gaping holes in this solution.
First of all, it assumes that all police officers are hard-working empathetic people who will completely understand that I feel unsafe stopping for them. When I eventually do stop, they’ll completely understand the emotions I’ve been feeling and will therefore be caring and accommodating. Or they’ll be grumpy from the detour they’ve just been forced to take at 40km/h, or that they had to get up from their desk after you’ve been hooting outside for 30 minutes. I’m not going to comment further on this matter. I’ll leave it to you to decide which of the above is more likely to take place.
It also assumes that the average person stays in control of their emotions in a hazardous situation and will be able to phone someone and give a registration number. For the record, I’ve been shot at and could barely function for two days after that.
And what’s the difference between driving to a friend’s house and a petrol station? Both situations endanger the lives of innocent bystanders and somehow I doubt a CCTV camera will keep a criminal from doing his evil deeds. This is besides the fact that hardened criminals in South Africa have proven time and time again that they don’t feel anything for innocent bystanders.
At the end of the day I’m really not angry at the JPSA or the RTMC. They do stellar work and this solution probably is the best anybody could have come up with. Great work guys!
What annoys me most is the fact that I’m given tips to keep myself safe when there’s an obvious solution to this problem.
Find the blasted blue-light criminals and lock them up. That way I have one less way of getting shot at to worry about.