Amanda Watson
News Editor
5 minute read
5 Nov 2013
6:00 am

What to do when the blue lights flash

Amanda Watson

It is a dark and stormy night, on a deserted road, when in your rear-view mirror you watch uneasily as headlights approach closer and closer.

Picture courtesy of

Then the blue lights on the roof of the vehicle begin to flash and you realise you are not wearing your seatbelt. What do you do?

In most countries, you indicate to pull over, slow down and stop in the quickest and safest possible manner. In South Africa, there is a very real threat that the person behind you might not actually be a cop, or sometimes, might be a cop looking for “cooldrink”, that uniquely South African euphemism for a bribe.

Most likely it is a one of the good guys who would lay down their lives, and often do, to protect you. However, the question still remains, what do you do?

According to a joint venture between the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) and the Justice Project of South Africa (JPSA), the first thing you do is stay calm.

Then follow the protocol issued by the state agency RTMC, step by step, and you will probably walk away with little more than a fine. Be careful though; it still is not law.

“The police have on numerous occasions publically spoken about a lot of what is in this protocol,” said JPSA chairman Howard Dembovsky, adding that it is not yet policy nor have all traffic enforcement authorities been briefed on it.

“So yes, it might not be law, but certainly we have to bear in mind the situation in our country where bogus policemen are a very real threat, it is not something that happens infrequently. With 250 cases under investigation it can hardly be described as a random act and something has to be done.”

“The protocol was put together about 18 months ago, but there has never been a platform to publicise it officially,” said Dembovsky.

The protocol is being disseminated to law enforcement agencies countrywide.


Blue Light Protocol

If you are followed by a vehicle – marked or not with blue flashing lights and it indicates for you to pull over, particularly at night – you would be wise not to do so if you feel uneasy or unsure that they are genuine police. Instead, it may be wise for you to indicate that you wish to proceed to a police station or public place before stopping.

Bear in mind that not stopping for genuine police can immediately escalate the situation and may endanger you further if you do not take extreme care to abide by all of the rules laid down here:

When indicating to the occupant/s of the vehicle following you that you wish to have them follow you to a place of safety:

  • Stay calm!
  • Slow right down and turn your hazard lights on and then –
  • Extend your right arm out of the window and with a tightly outspread hand extended into the air with your forearm at 90 degrees from your shoulder;
  • Gesture for them to follow you by moving your forearm forward and back to the upright, and repeat this action several times.
  • Drive at no more than 40km/h and proceed directly to the closest police station or public place with CCTV cameras in operation; like a service station forecourt.
  • Do not drive you your own, or a friend of yours’ home as this may endanger you and your loved ones if those following you are not genuine police.
  • If you have a cell phone with you, call 10111 and tell them that you are being followed and are proceeding to the closest police station or public place.
  • If you are not sure where the closest police station is, you can ask the 10111 operator.
  • If possible, provide the registration number of the vehicle that is following you so it may be established if it is a legitimate police vehicle or not.
  • If you go to a police station, when you get there and if there are no police personnel in sight outside, hoot for as long as it takes for someone to come out.
  • Remain in your vehicle with the engine running, in gear and your windows wound up until such time as police from the station come out to you.
  • Cooperate fully with police personnel from that police station and the officers from the vehicle that followed you and explain immediately that you felt intimidated and therefore proceeded directly to the police station.
  • If you go to a service station, drive onto the forecourt (centre of the service station) where the pumps or the convenience shop are so you will be in full view of the cameras.
  • Cooperate fully with the officers from the vehicle that followed you and explain immediately that you felt intimidated and therefore proceeded directly to the service station.
  • No matter what, if you are shouted at, do not respond by shouting back. Also be careful not to respond to any potentially violent acts by resisting in any way or becoming violent yourself. Remain calm and respectful and explain that the reason you did not stop immediately was because you were not comfortable that they were genuine police.
  • There is a massive difference between evading, or fleeing from police and having them follow you to a place of safety.
  • Both, members of the public and genuine police should feel comfortable with this protocol, since it offers protection from attack in an isolated place by moving the stop to a public place where witnesses and assistance should be around.
  • Warning: if you follow all of these steps precisely and the people pursuing you start shooting at you, do everything that you can to evade them and get away without endangering yourself and others. Phone police immediately.

Disclaimer: This protocol is released as is, in the public interest and neither JPSA nor the RTMC can accept any liability whatsoever for any deviation from it by any person.