Should I call 911 if I’m in my car and see a bad driver?


If you see another driver whose behavior poses a threat, calling 911 and providing a good description and location to a dispatcher can help prevent a more serious incident.

If you see another driver whose behavior poses a threat, calling 911 and providing a good description and location to a dispatcher can help prevent a more serious incident.

The Olympian file

Question: What action should you take when you witness very dangerous driving? For example, on a recent trip, I saw a tractor-trailer truck repeatedly crossing traffic lanes, three motorcycles driving between lanes and cars in traffic, and two cars racing ahead at more than 80 mph. Should we just ignore these incidents? Do you call 911 to report dangerous driving? Or do you stay in your zone listening to podcasts to keep your own road rage from building?

Responnse: Anyone who has been driving for a while has had a day where you were seriously annoyed by another driver. And chances are there was a day when you were also the boring driver. I hope it’s not on purpose, but mistakes are inevitable in life, and if driving is part of your life, so will you.

Then there are times when another driver scares you. Maybe you fear for yourself, or maybe you have an indirect fear for other drivers on the road. Things like a tractor-trailer drifting into another lane or cars hurtling down the highway can do this.

Your question actually does a lot of heavy lifting for me. If you’re annoyed by another driver, yes, listen to your podcast, do breathing exercises, practice empathy, and understand that the other driver may not have signaled their lane change because they’re thinking about medical needs of an aging relative, or perhaps the driver has an underdeveloped organ; the brain, in case you were wondering which one. Similarly, we can get our driver’s license at 16, but the decision-making part of our brains doesn’t fully develop until around 25.

But if a driver’s behavior poses a threat, 911 is a good choice. We were taught to call 911 only in an emergency, so let me reframe that a bit. If you saw a person walking towards your neighbor’s house at night with a crowbar, would you wait for them to force the front door to call 911?

He might be a crowbar salesman with insomnia, but why not step in before the sound of a splinter of wood proves you wrong? Similarly, you would call 911 if you were at the scene of an accident; consider calling 911 if you observe behavior that could cause an accident.

A big part of police work is responding to an incident. Traffic control is one of the few opportunities the police have to intervene before something serious happens. On its website, the washington state patrol specifically asks that you report aggressive, distracted or impaired drivers.

When you call 911, the dispatcher will likely ask you where you last saw the vehicle, license plate number (if known), direction of travel, route, vehicle color and what happened. The dispatcher will then relay this information to agents in the area.

What can the police do with the information? They can’t just stop a car based on that. By law, an officer can only issue a traffic violation if they or another officer witnessed it, or based on evidence at the scene of an accident. However, in the sea of ​​cars that are all doing their job, your description warns them to watch out for a specific vehicle.

Does it work? It happened when I reported an impaired driver to 911. A few minutes later, I was called by an officer who had stopped the driver, asking me for a statement about what I had observed. This is just one example of how we are all working together to make our roads safer.

Doug Dahl, Head of Communications at Target Zero, answers questions about traffic laws, safe driving habits and general policing practices every Monday.

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