Although this has never happened to me, I've read and heard about people driving on the road and then being signaled (in some way, usually with reds and blues) to pull over for a ticket and the car doing this isn't the usual police car for that area but instead an unmarked car.

Are you legally required to pull over for this unmarked car just like you would for a regular police car? What laws mention or describe this situation (in any state)? If it is required, how are you to know if the police car is legitimate?

  • The Connecticut State Police have only unmarked cars (their cruisers are solid gray with a lightbar). The cop has to show you a badge or be in uniform, though. Also, unmarked cars are really, really common for traffic enforcement in a lot of the country.
    – cpast
    May 27, 2015 at 6:30
  • 1
    @cpast, contrary to what you say, California begs to differ -- unmarked traffic cars would constitute speed traps, and are expressly illegal in California for speed-related enforcement. forums.officer.com/t99296 metnews.com/articles/2008/dyer052308.htm
    – cnst
    Jun 24, 2015 at 2:52
  • @cnst The dictionary begs to differ with your definition of "a lot of." I am well aware that California doesn't allow unmarked vehicles for officers whose primary duty is traffic enforcement (however, it is absolutely valid for an officer on other duties to use an unmarked, and that officer is absolutely allowed to make stops for observed violations; you must stop for an unmarked car in California. Furthermore, not all stops are for traffic violations). But other states are not California (or Michigan), and don't do it that way.
    – cpast
    Jun 24, 2015 at 3:02
  • @cpast are they all gray? They used to come in a range of dark colors like nation and dark blue. I think I once saw an ice cream truck with a lightbar that had pulled someone over. Also, in my experience, they don't always have a light bar; sometimes they just have lights on the dash and inside the (tinted) rear window. In my experience the drivers of these vehicles are invariably in uniform.
    – phoog
    Apr 15, 2016 at 4:18
  • @cpast articles.courant.com/1999-03-28/news/…
    – phoog
    Apr 15, 2016 at 4:31

5 Answers 5


In most states you are required to pull over to the side of the road and come to a stop for any vehicle displaying flashing red and/or blue lights, whether oncoming or overtaking. If you don't you are guilty of a moving violation.1

If the vehicle with the lights then pulls in behind you the same law forbids you from moving your vehicle. So that's the law for being pulled over by an unmarked car.

If you are concerned that you were stopped in this manner by someone not authorized to do so (police impersonators have been known to do this) you should call 911 and get the dispatcher to confirm whether the apparent emergency vehicle is legitimate. In general, if you fear for your safety, you can stay in your car and ask to be escorted to a known police station before exposing yourself. E.g., here's the advice of one Ohio State Highway Patrolman:

If the area where you stop looks desolate, Miller said you don't have to stop there. In fact, he said, "Proceed to that well lit area or a public building, the fire department, hospital." [B]efore you even stop, if you don't feel safe, "Use your cell phone to dial 9-1-1 and talk to the dispatcher, let her know what's going on, give your location and have her guide you as to what she wants you to do."

There are some jurisdictions that restrict the use of "unmarked" cars by police.

  • This answer doesn't refer to any legal authority. The hyperlinks are to advice about personal safety, not the law. People should not accept vague references to 'the law' requiring this, that or the other. Jun 27, 2016 at 12:12
  • 1
    @PatrickConheady - Good points. The problem with a question like this is that the applicable laws are typically enacted at the state level, and sometimes even lower jurisdictions. Examples could be provided from particular states, and there might be some model code that is used by many states. Citations of either such statutes would be helpful answers, as would examples of discordant statutes.
    – feetwet
    Jun 27, 2016 at 15:57

Washington state legislature states : " It is unlawful for any public officer having charge of any vehicle owned or controlled by any county, city, town, or public body in this state other than the state of Washington and used in public business to operate the same upon the public highways of this state unless and until there shall be displayed upon such automobile or other motor vehicle in letters of contrasting color not less than one and one-quarter inches in height in a conspicuous place on the right and left sides thereof, the name of such county, city, town, or other public body, together with the name of the department or office upon the business of which the said vehicle is used. This section shall not apply to vehicles of a sheriff's office, local police department, or any vehicles used by local peace officers under public authority for special undercover or confidential investigative purposes. ".

So, under the pretext of confidential investigative purposes, you can be pulled over by unmarked police vehicle, as interpret-ability of this law is very vague.

  • 4
    Can you provide citation for the law you are quoting?
    – feetwet
    May 27, 2015 at 15:00
  • 7
    The statute you cite says that it is "unlawful" for the officer to use that type of car. That is a different question from whether that alleged technical defect makes it legal for you to ignore the officer's request to pull over.
    – chapka
    May 27, 2015 at 15:01
  • @chapka: Such a law should be interpreted as giving ordinary citizens reason to believe that anyone who is driving a car which is not marked in required fashion is not a police officer whom they would be required to obey. Unfortunately, from what I recall, a court in at least one state has upheld a "resisting arrest" charge in a situation where a citizen expressed doubt that the person seeking to detain him was a cop, and the cop had made no effort to demonstrate his legitimacy.
    – supercat
    Jul 24, 2015 at 20:56
  • @supercat sounds reasonable. An off-duty police officer in his private car is still a police officer and when noticing a crime in progress is allowed to intervene. The mere fact that he's out of uniform and not in an official car doesn't change that fact. Him being incapable or unwilling to identify himself is of concern however.
    – jwenting
    Feb 14, 2020 at 6:10
  • Any judge who would punish a citizen for refusing orders from someone who doesn't provide evidence of actually being a cop should be asked whether citizens should be expected to obey any random crook who claims to be a cop. If the answer is yes, that needs to be made public. If no, that should contradict punishment for people who refuse orders from people who claim to be cops but show no actual evidence of it.
    – supercat
    Feb 14, 2020 at 6:16

In most jurisdictions, it is illegal for anyone but a police officer (or other classes of first responders) to operate lights and sirens.

In other words, if the car has a light bar, or even a magnetic snap-on dome light, it is not "unmarked" in any reasonable sense of the word.

I guess the question, for me, is: what legal authority requires you to pull over when an ordinary police car pulls you over? Does that statute say, "But only if the car is a certain color?" If it doesn't, then what difference could it possibly make?

  • 3
    The question asks for laws; this answer does not identify any laws. Jun 27, 2016 at 12:14

Where I live you can call 911 and ask if the officer behind you is real before pulling over. The 911 operator will notify the officer of the situation and verify for you to pull over in a safe place out of traffic.


It seems that everyone, except a few are good little brain washed Americans that are willing to give up their rights as a citizen of a free nation. Nearly everyone says that if the vehicle has even one flashing light you are required to pull over. This is not farther from the truth. In the great democratic state of NY, we have courtesy lights. Be it red, blue or green, if you're a fireman or EMT you're permitted to use said light. No law says you need to stop, slow down or pullover for that vehicle. Assuming that a volunteer fireman has a blue 4dr Chevy Malibu with a red and blue bar light on his dash. Do you pullover? Which law says you need to? What happens if today it's a fireman and tomorrow an undercover officer? Law books need to be read in such a fashion as to protect the civilian. Because after all it's the government's responsibility to protect the average person.

  • 3
    NY law does not allow red courtesy lights, actually. Red lights (other than those required by law, like brake lights) are limited to authorized emergency vehicles. Chiefs and assistant chiefs of volunteer fire departments can put red lights on vehicles they ordinarily drive, but that's because those vehicles are emergency vehicles.
    – cpast
    Jun 26, 2016 at 22:46
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    The question asks for laws; this answer does not identify any laws. If there is no relevant law in, for example, New York, then this should be illustrated by citing the laws that do exist in relation to road use, so that the non-existence of a relevant law can be readily verified. Jun 27, 2016 at 12:19
  • I'm sorry that you got a bad welcome. I would never down vote a new user. Please try another question or SE site here. New policies have been made to be more friendly for new users.
    – Muze
    Sep 14, 2018 at 19:53
  • @MuzethegoodTroll. I downvote almost never. I'm in NZ. I'd consider downvoting an answer which started by actively insulting most people here AND then gave a questionable at best to likely spurious answer. Others have given good answers that explain the nuances and likely special circumstances well enough to confirm this answer is of low merit and approaches "not useful". || No, I'm not downvoting it. Feb 14, 2020 at 0:41

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