woop woop – woop woop – woop woop

A sound that ranks right up there with the sight of red and blue flashing lights in the rearview.  Nothing grabs my attention faster than a police car and, truth be told, it doesn’t need the lights or siren to do it.

Just the vehicle itself will do.

Which brings me to the question of the day: what exactly is police car etiquette these days?

I don’t mean how you’re supposed to behave while getting loaded into the back of one of those things – I’m pretty sure once the silver bracelets are on it’s best to duck your head and wait until you can call an attorney.

I’m talking driver etiquette while traveling in proximity to our law enforcement officers.

etiquette:  conventional requirements as to social behavior; properties of conduct as established in any class or community for any occasion

If we’re honest about it, there are multiple sets of road etiquette depending on the situation.

  • DMV license test
  • commuting to work
  • driving through your neighborhood
  • late for an appointment that can’t be rescheduled
  • school drop off/pick up line
  • driving in the presence of a police car

While each of these tweak a nerve or two, it’s the last one that really throws me for a loop.

Take the interstate, for example.  I’m not Susie Slowpoke, yet I’ll be cruising along at 70mph and getting passed right and left like I’m standing still.  But the second (and I mean the SECOND) a police car appears it’s like the world flips into slo-mo.  Cars and trucks that had been flying by are suddenly driving 5mph under the limit, creep- creep- creeping along.  Me?  I tend to hold steady at around 68.  I figure there’s a very fine line between risking attention by speeding slightly and annoying a cop by blocking him in behind cars flipped into turtle mode.  I prefer the non-annoyance route.

Speed becomes even more challenging on our back roads, where the curves cause long stretches of double lines and limited visibility.  When a police car pops up behind me my foot hovers between the gas and break like I’m line dancing.  Is 5mph over the limit fast enough?  Too fast?  Just right?  Even worse, I know this totally depends on both the officer in the car and their urgency in getting to their destination.

Then there’s the mail truck dilemma.  I catch up to a mail truck on a two lane road.  If there’s no traffic coming then I swerve out to pass him, double yellow lines or not.  But what if a police car pops up in the rearview mirror?  Do the mail carrier rules still apply?  I’m fairly certain the cop doesn’t want to get caught in stop and go cruising for the next mile, but that means I’m counting on the fact that they won’t care when I flagrantly break the law literally in front of them.  And I don’t like gambling when it comes to moving violations.

And how about that heart stopping moment when you pop over the top of a hill only to see a police car parked by the side of the road, radar gun pointed directly at you.  It’s that deer in the headlights moment – Wait, what?  What just happened?  Is he looking at me?  He’s looking at me, and he’s clocked my speed.  How fast was I going?  (quick glance down)  $#@!  What do I do?  Slam on the breaks…gradually slow down…maintain speed so I don’t look guilty?  $#@!  $#@!  $#@!

I hear police are people, too, but for the life of me I can’t help but break into a cold sweat trying to make these snap decisions.