So the other day this thing happened, and I’m still sufficiently nonplussed about it that I need to know if I’m crazy or the world is. (Suspected correct answer: both.)
I was driving on the interstate on my way to work, and right before I got to my exit I noticed that the traffic had slowed waaaaaaay down in front of me. This is of itself not such an odd thing. Interstate traffic in the Boston metro is wont to slow down inconveniently. As I approached the area where the cars seemed to have stopped, I noted that there was a police car stopped in the far right lane, lights flashing.
“Hmmmm,” thought I. “Something untoward must have occurred there in the far right lane, requiring the presence of a police officer. I will slow down considerably here in my leftward lane so as to provide maximal safety for the police officer.”
And I made my way slowly past, just as I had seen a few cars ahead of me do.
Then came the weirdness.
As I drove past, the police car proceeded to drive from the rightmost lane and into the highway in front of me. But the officer driving the car did not drive in a straight line. Rather, he swerved the car across the highway from lane to lane. If I had seen any vehicle other than a police car driving thusly, my immediate conclusion would have been that the driver was heavily intoxicated.
And so I drove very slowly down the highway behind a swerving cop car. At one point I looked to my right at the driver of the car going very slowly alongside me, giving him the confused expression and upturned palm gesture that is the universal sign of “WTF?!?” He responded with a similarly-confused expression/gesture combo that I took to mean “Hell if I should know.” On we very slowly drove behind a swerving cop car.
Perhaps you will think me a very great fool, but I found myself alarmed that there might be something Seriously Wrong with the man driving the car. Intoxication seemed (relatively) unlikely, but I was genuinely concerned that the officer was having acute mental status changes for some reason.
Such was my concern that I was right in the middle of calling 911 to report an erratically-driving police car when lo, another police car with lights flashing drove up beside us, which stopped and from which emerged a different police officer. As we were driving very slowly, he was able to approach my car and, in the assertive and not entirely polite manner that law enforcement personnel employ when they have a point to make, he instructed me to stop my car. Apparently, when one sees a cop car swerving across the interstate, one’s meet response is to stop immediately.
Friends, I had no idea. After I, flustered, explained that I had never heard of such a thing, and that my continuing to drive was not motivated by a desire to flout the law but simply having no clue whatsoever what was going on, the officer ever so slightly more politely said “Now you know” and walked back to his car.
I still don’t know why I (and the several dozen other cars who, similarly clueless, had very slowly driven behind me) had to stop in the middle of the interstate. When I called the office to tell them I would be indefinitely delayed, I was told that a bunch of cop cars had just driven toward the highway. Sitting in my vehicle biding my time, I saw several driving around the swirling ramps of the underpass below. The officer in the car in front of me got out of his car, too, and both he and the policeman who told me to stop stared off into the distance for several minutes.
And then they both got into their cars and drove away. No signal for traffic to resume flowing, just off they went. After a few seconds of consternation, during which I wondered if I was allowed to go or not, I started the car again and went on my way. That was that.
Now, I consider myself both well-informed and reasonably law-abiding. And it rankled a bit to be (mildly) dressed down for failing to comply with an obscure traffic instruction I’d never heard of. Over the course of the day I asked several people if they’d ever heard of the “swerving cop car = stop” rule, and nobody had. This past weekend at a family holiday gathering I asked one of my brothers-in-law if he’d ever heard of it and he hadn’t and he’s a cop.
So that’s this week’s Question/Public Service Announcement. First, dear readers, if you should ever find yourself behind a police vehicle swerving from side to side, apparently you’re meant to stop. The officer inside is probably fine.
Second, is anyone out there aware that the message conveyed under these circumstances is “stop your vehicle”? Would you have known that, or would you have slowly proceeded like me and my temporary retinue?
Finally, here’s your chance to give the world a protip. What does nobody seem to know, but should? What little bit of advice did you wish everyone heeded? What obscure rule or arcane guideline do you want to pass on to the ignorant masses?