CHP Terms Explained

The series of stories below were written some time around 1990.

Push one of the triangles below to hear some music while you read

-1970s "CHiPs" TV show's theme (No, I seldom watched it)
-The 1955 TV show theme song to "Highway Patrol" with Broderick Crawford
-Dragnet (only 9 notes, but almost everyone recognizes it)
-Dragnet (the longer version)
-Dragnet (the longer version)
Click here to hear Junior Brown singing "Highway Patrol".

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If you have ever driven a car or listened to the radio in Southern California, you have heard the phrase "Sig Alert." Newcomers to the area have probably figured out it is something to do with traffic. Old hands at the daily dance that is driving in Southern California know that it is any unplanned event which blocks a part of the roadway for, at least, thirty minutes.

"Sig" is not an acronym, it is the nickname of the man who invented the Sig Alert. During the mid 1950s, Loyd Sigmon, at the time a part owner of Los Angeles radio station KMPC, discovered that most radio and television stations did not monitor police radios. He thought it might help everyone, if the media could get direct messages from law enforcement whenever a major problem arose on the roadways. The media could then pass this information along to it audiences. Sigmon contacted L.A.P.D. Chief Parker with his idea. The Chief agreed to the proposal if, at least, six stations would participate. "Sig" contacted several stations and won their support for the idea. Electronic equipment was designed which allowed law enforcement to directly broadcast to the media that something big was up, without having to telephone them all individually. And thus, the Sig Alert was born. The first Sig Alert was issued on Labor Day 1955. The rest, as they say, is history.


Everyday on California freeways there are objects which wind up in the lanes of traffic. These obstacles can include such things as christmas trees, mattresses, construction equipment, lawn trimmings, clothes, garbage, furniture and vehicles which have become disabled, wound up facing the wrong way on the shoulders, or involved in collisions. Removing this blockage from the roads is part of the normal routine of the California Highway Patrol.

There are several ways this can be accomplished. First, an Officer can wait for a natural break in the flow of traffic. They can them retrieve the object, or push it out of the lanes. The large vertical bumpers you see on the front of CHP cars are used to push vehicles without damaging either vehicle. On most freeways in major metropolitan areas, a sufficiently long "natural break" is very rare. In these cases, Officers will create their own "traffic break." With one Officer standing by at the scene of the obstacle, another Officer will get on the freeway at a point before the scene of the problem. The Officer in the car, or the motorcycle, will turn on their emergency lights. Sometimes, they will even activate the vehicle s siren. They will then start moving in the direction of the obstruction. The Officer will start to zig-zag back and forth across all lanes of traffic until they have the attention of all of the vehicles behind them. This zig-zagging motion is intended to keep all vehicles behind the CHP vehicle. When the Officer is convinced that all of the vehicles have seen the patrol car, they will slow down. This slowing down will create a gap between the vehicles traveling behind the CHP vehicle, and those traveling at normal speeds in front of the patrol car. Normally, the Officer creating the break will then use the radio to give the Officer at the scene of the problem a description of the last car traveling at regular speeds. When the last car goes by, the Officer at the scene will then either run out into the lanes to remove the item, they will push the disabled vehicle out of the way, or they will instruct the driver of a vehicle facing the wrong way that it is safe to make a u-turn, and get on their way.

So, the next time you see a CHP vehicle driving back and forth across all of the lanes with its lights flashing, you do not have to worry about the Officer having had too much to drink. You will know that they are running a "traffic break."


Quite often, at the scene of a major accident or when something happens which blocks most of the lanes of the freeway, traffic will rapidly back up. Traffic coming to a rapid halt can create dangerous situations due to inattentive drivers. There have been many secondary crashes in the backup caused by the original problem. Unfortunately, these secondary crashes are sometimes worse than the original event.

When a California Highway Patrol Officer arrives at the scene, they will notice the situation that is causing the problem. Then, based on their assessment of how long it will take for the roadway to be cleared, and how much traffic has backed up, they may request a Sig Alert to be issued or help from other CHP Officers. One of the ways an Officer can reduce the odds of a crash occurring in the traffic backup, is to slow the approaching traffic. This can be accomplished by a traffic break. Sometimes, however, a single traffic break may not last long enough for a complicated situation. In this case, the Officer at the scene may request other Officers perform what are called "round robins." Round robins" are a continuing series of traffic breaks designed to slow down traffic. Other Officers may go as far away as several miles to start a traffic break. They will slow the traffic down; and, keep it slow until they pass the scene of the problem. The Officer will then go back, and do it again.

So, the next time you hear a traffic report on your radio talking about the CHP doing round robins, you will know it is not a sports tournament; but, it is an effort to keep the freeway as safe as possible.

"DEUCE, DUI, DWI and 502 "

One of the scourges of the freeway is the driver who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Checking any thesaurus will reveal that the word "drunk" has more variations in English than almost any other word. While words and phrases such as bombed, three sheets to the wind, feeling no pain or smashed are common parlance, law enforcement has their own terms for the inebriated driver.

One of the most common terms used by law enforcement in the eastern part of the country is "DWI." DWI is driving while intoxicated. The California variation of this term is "DUI": driving under the influence. In the law enforcement community, many violations of the law are refered to by their statutory number in the criminal codes. One of the original laws against drunk driving was section number 502. Thus, a "502" was a drunk driver. The term 502 became so ingrained in our speech it is still common even though the statutory number changed over 20 years ago. You can still see "502" in many yellow pages ads for legal representation. 502 was changed to section 23102 of the California Vehicle Code. This section was eventually modified to become section 23152. One common factor throughout these numerous numbers has been the "2". Coupling the "2" with the term "DUI", a new phrase was born amongst the state s law enforcement agencies: "DUECE".


The California Vehicle Code (CVC for short) contains tens of thousands of laws, rules and regulations. Highway Patrol Officers will quite often refer to a specific law by its CVC number rather than by its "given" name. CVC section number 10851 is titled: "Theft and Unlawful Taking or Driving of a Vehicle." You can see why we call it 10851 (pronounced: "ten-eight-five-one")! It is also referred to as auto theft, vehicle theft, grand theft auto, "a stolen", and a few other slang terms.

The recovery of stolen vehicles is one of the many things that CHP Officers do on a regular basis. More vehicles are stolen in Los Angeles County than in many other States. Fortunately for the motoring public, the vast majority of those vehicles are later found and returned to their rightful owners. To recognize the efforts of those CHP Officers whose skill in finding 10851s is especially outstanding, the CHP established a special award. This award, which has been copied by many other California Law Enforcement Agencies, is called the "10851 pin."

There are several different levels of the award; but, they all look somewhat like a California license plate with the numbers 10851 on it. The award is worn on an Officer s right breast pocket. To win "the coveted 10851 pin," as it is called by the CHP brass, an Officer must show their proficiency is finding stolen vehicles. This is done in one of two ways. Within a twelve month period, an Officer must detect, stop and capture six different stolen vehicles and their respective drivers. A stolen vehicle which is being operated by a crook is called a "rolling stolen." The other method to win this award is for an Officer to arrest at least three operators of "rolling stolens" with their stolen vehicle, and to also find enough abandoned stolen vehicles to bring the total number of recovered vehicles to an even dozen.

Each time an Officer reaches this level of achievement, they are given another award. When they have accomplished this difficult task five times, they are given the "Master 10851" pin. This pin has a different color combination than the standard 10851 pin. For those truly rare Officers who mange to win the 10851 pin twenty-five times, they receive the "Master - Master 10851" pin. This pin has a slightly different design than the other pins.

Some Officers can go an entire career without earning a pin. An Officer working in certain parts of the major metropolitan areas of California is much more likely to encounter 10851s than an officer working in an out-of-the-way, rural location. Don t count the "back-country" Officers out of the picture, though. A sharp eye, and an inquiring nature can locate stolen vehicles wherever they might be.

So, the next time you see an officer with a "10851" pin on their uniform, you ll know how they got it, and you can congratulate them for their special skills and efforts.


Think of the California Highway Patrol, and you will almost assuredly think of traffic. Traffic comes in many forms and permutations. When the volume of vehicles gets to be greater than the roadway can handle, a traffic jam develops. "Keeping the traffic moving," is very important to the CHP. Any number of things can lead to a traffic jam: a crash, "rush hour," broken signal lights, construction work, debris in the roadway, and a few others things, as well.

With traffic jams come the seemingly inevitable crashes caused by drivers whose attention is elsewhere (I call this driving on "autopilot"). To help prevent these crashes from happening, the CHP will quite often employ some form of "Traffic Control." Traffic Control can take the form of Traffic Breaks, Round Robins, closing a lane with cones or flares, or positioning an Officer in a lane to direct traffic. Traffic Breaks, and Round Robins help to slow down freeway traffic, thus lessening the chance of a crash.

After a crash, it is important to keep other vehicles from hitting the involved vehicles or debris in the roadway. In these circumstances, some of the first Officers arriving at the scene may quickly place cones or flares in the roadway to close a lane or to divert traffic away from the trouble spot. After things have stabilized and enough Officers have arrived at the trouble spot to handle emergency needs, usually, an Officer will be assigned to direct traffic around the area until the obstacles have been removed. This assignment usually involves replacing burned out flares, picking up knocked down cones and using hand gestures to speed up the folks who just have to slow down to see why traffic has slowed down. These "rubber-neckers" or "lookie-loos" really do contribute to the problem. Caltrans estimates that for every minute a lane is actually blocked, traffic will remain slow for an additional two to five minutes. This explains why traffic may slow down and then speed up for no apparent reason long after the crash has been removed.

Traffic Control is serious work. In 1996, a CHP Officer was struck by a vehicle and killed while directing traffic outside a concert. I personally know of several officers who have been hit and injured by inattentive or inebriated drivers while they were directing traffic. Traffic Control is not as glamorous as doing a TV interview about the crash, as exciting as chasing someone who is trying to flee the scene, or as challenging as doing CPR on an injured person; but, it is a vital job that must be done to prevent any additional problems for the motoring public. After all, the roads must roll!


According to the California Vehicle Code (CVC) a: "Highway is a way or place of whatever nature, publicly maintained and open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel. Highway includes street." Thus, technically, the words Street and Highway are interchangeable. A Road "means any existing vehicle route with significant evidence of prior regular travel by vehicles subject to registration." Road does not include bike paths; but, it can include private roads not open to the public. Officially, a "Freeway is a highway in respect to which the owners of abutting lands have no right or easement of access to or from their abutting lands or in respect to which such owners have only limited or restricted right or easement of access."

Different types of roads have acquired many different names over the years. These names also vary from one region of the United States to another. The words Expressway and Motorway are seen more often in the eastern half of the country. An Expressway is very similar to what Californians call a Freeway. Words such as: Road, Street, Boulevard, Lane, Drive, Way, Place, Circle, Court, Parkway and Avenue are seen across the country. The Southwest has its own set of unique words (based on Spanish) such as: Calle, Camino, Via, Avenida, Paseo and Caminito. A Causeway usually refers to a road which goes over water.

Simply put, a Freeway is an major road designed for high speeds and with only limited access. A Street is a road designed for lower speeds and it has direct access to homes or businesses. The word Highway is usually used to refer to a Freeway, but, not always. An Interstate is a Freeway designed and built by the Federal Government. Many people do not know that the Interstate Freeway system was originally built to help transport the military from one side of the country to another. The official name is something like the "National Defense Interstate Freeway System,"

In California, a State Route may be a Freeway or a Street. In San Diego, for example, State Route 163 is really a freeway. State Route 274 is really a city street called Balboa Avenue.

To make things simple, many California Highway Patrol officers will use just two phrases: Freeway and Surface Street. If it is not a Freeway, then its a Surface Street. Even though Highway is our middle name, literally, we seldom use it to refer to any type of road in our official reports. With all of these complexities, no wonder there are so many attorneys.


Radio and Television Traffic Reporters have their own unique language, much of which was derived from law enforcement terminology. It is a common practice for Traffic Reporters not to mention certain types of events. In some cases, such as a person threatening to jump from a freeway overpass, the stations they serve do not want it mentioned. In other cases, law enforcement requests that the exact nature of the event not be mention. For example, Police or the CHP are sneaking up on a potential murderer s hideout, and they have closed the road which provides the only escape. Law enforcement would not want the bad guy to hear about their plans on the radio, and yet the reporter wants to tell the public about the traffic back-up. A the traffic reporter will quite often refer to these actions as "Law Enforcement Activity."

Many newspapers, and radio and TV stations will not mention suicide attempts or successful suicides for fear that the person might have done this just to get their "15 minutes of fame." In teenagers, sociologist have noticed a certain "copy-cat" nature to these types of events. So, by not mentioning them, unless they are truly newsworthy, the media is attempting to avoid the potential of fostering additional attempts by others. In other cases, some media outlets do not like to mention certain types of incidents for fear it would alarm or offend their listeners. A particularly gruesome collision on the freeway which causes a death may only be referred to as a crash with some injuries. If it was a murder, it would probably be called "Law Enforcement Activity." In other cases, an event may be called Law Enforcement Activity for fear that "lookie-loos" might respond to the scene just to get a look at a famous person getting arrested for public intoxication, or some other offense.

Sometimes, authorities will make a "hot stop" on a criminal on the freeway. A "hot stop" is when the suspect is taken out of their vehicle at gun point. Again, to avoid the potential for people to flock to the scene to watch what is going on, traffic reporters will quite often call this Law Enforcement Activity, as well.

Traffic reporters do not have much time to give their reports. "Law Enforcement Activity" could also be used to describe something that is quite detailed in nature. For example, a driver is stopped because their license plate has expired registration. The officer wants to see the driver s identification and their vehicle s registration papers. The driver believes that government does not have any rights to license him or his vehicle, so he refuses to roll down his window or to get out of his car. Eventually, several other officers respond to try to arrive at a peaceful resolution to the situation. Several police cars in one spot will obviously slow down traffic. This would take too long to explain, so it becomes "Law Enforcement Activity."

So, as you can see, "Law Enforcement Activity" can involve some serious things and some not so serious events. In any case, when you local traffic reporters tells you about some "Law Enforcement Activity," your drive will go much smoother if you just avoid the area entirely.


The California Highway Patrol's (CHP) main focus is on the enforcement of traffic and vehicle-related laws. That s simple, enough; but, the CHP is much more complicated than that. Since the CHP has full "police" powers, we can engage in all types of law enforcement. The CHP could investigate a murder, a bank robbery, fraud, and a thousands of other types of crimes. Yes, we can even write you a ticket for running a red light on a city street in the middle of downtown San Francisco! Because we are so much more than just "traffic cops," our organization is quite complicated. The CHP is actually the primary law enforcement agency in some small towns.

With the merger of the CHP and the California State Police, the CHP is now responsible for the protection of State property and State officials. For years, when the Governor was "on the road," in his official capacity, his driver has been a CHP officer. The CHP has provided protection to national and foreign dignitaries for some time. When you see the President at an event in California, the CHP is usually there.

The CHP operates a fleet of airplanes and helicopters. These aircraft are used for speed enforcement, surveillance, rescues, and they are even used occasionally by State officials to get a "bird s-eye" view of a disaster scene.

The CHP is responsible for the inspection of all transportation terminals. This could include anything from a church with two buses to transport its flock, to the largest shipping company in the State. Commercial trucks are also subject to inspections by the CHP while they are on the road. The CHP also oversees many aspects of the transportation of hazardous waste, explosives, combustibles and radioactive material. Many of these activities are carried out by both uniformed and "civilian" employees.

The CHP is the vehicle theft coordinator for all law enforcement agencies in the state. We have investigation teams which specialize in uncovering organized theft rings, insurance fraud, cargo theft, international export crimes, and a host of other vehicle related fields.

The CHP has several programs aimed at illegal drugs. We have "drug dogs," we operate special undercover and plain view illegal drug apprehension teams. In 1994, for example, the CHP seized drugs with a street value of more than 300 million dollars.

CHP dispatchers answer almost every freeway callbox call & 911 calls made from cellular phones. These highly motivated people contact the public several million times a year.

It is plain to see that just as the recruiting poster says, "It s not just writing tickets!"


Since the 1960s, vehicles made in the United States have been required to have seat belts, or safety belts as some call them, for each seating position. Seatbelts have been one of the primary factors in reducing injury and death to motor vehicle occupants involved in collisions. In the last ten years, more and more vehicles are being manufactured with Supplemental Restraint Systems (SRS)."

In common language, a SRS is an "air bag." In many vehicles, you can actually see the initials SRS on the steering wheel. This is to indicate that this vehicle has an air bag. Air bags are set to deploy within a split second after the vehicle detects an impact. Their cushioning effect lessens the blow of a crash. While small children placed improperly in a vehicle can sustain some injuries from a SRS, the vast majority of people have had fewer injuries when they have been involved in a crash when the air bag was deployed. Air bags have saved many lives, as well.

One of the misconceptions about SRSs or air bags is that they replace your seat belts. By definition, this is a "Supplemental" system. It is designed to used with your seat belt. While no system is fool-proof, the two systems together are an effective shield against many potentially dangerous conditions. Side air bags, which are now appearing in more up-scale vehicles will an additional layer of protection.

Vehicles built in the last twenty years have been designed to have a survivability or crash protection zone inside the passenger compartment. Seat belts and SRSs were designed to help keep you inside this "zone of protection" and to defend you from injuries within the vehicle. All in all, when these pieces of equipment are used properly, your trip to the store to get a gallon of milk will remain just a routine chore and not a harrowing adventure into unknown territory fraught with dangers.


Excuses, excuses, excuses! A California Highway Patrol Officer gets to hear lots of excuses when they stop someone for speeding. Some excuses are legitimate, "I just cut off my foot with a chainsaw, and the hospital is only two blocks away." Some excuses are just plain dumb: "I always drive faster in the fog, so I can get out of it quicker."

There is one kind of excuse that is in a class all by itself. This is the "you just stopped me because " excuse. This kind of person must believe what they are saying, they think they can bully the Officer out of a ticket by showing they are prejudiced against something, or they just cannot take responsibility for their own act of speeding and they want to lay the blame elsewhere. Only the person using this type of excuse knows the answer as to why they do it.

Here are some of these excuses for being stopped for doing 80 MPH in a 65 MPH zone.

"You just stopped me because:

I'm driving a foreign car (or truck)
I'm driving an American Car
I'm driving a new car
I'm driving an old car
I'm driving a dirty car
I'm driving a clean car
I'm driving an expensive car
I'm driving a beat up car
I'm driving a small car
I'm driving a big car
I'm driving a Mercedes
I'm driving a Cadillac
I'm driving a BMW
I'm driving a Lexus
I'm driving a Ford
I'm driving a Chevy
I'm driving a Chrysler
I'm driving a truck
I'm driving a sports car
I'm driving a convertible
I'm driving a station wagon
I'm driving a sports utility vehicle
I'm driving a RV
I'm driving an ATV
I'm driving a motorcycle
I'm a biker
I'm riding a Harley
I'm riding a Japanese Motorcycle
my license plate is from ____ (put in a State: Texas, etc.)
I'm driving a ______ (put in any color) car
I'm ______ (put in any ethnic group's color: white, black, etc.)
I'm ______ (put in any religious group)
I'm an _____ (put in any Country's name: American, Italian, etc.)
I'm a _____ (put in any political group: Republican, liberal, etc.)
I'm a man
I'm a woman
I'm a mother
I'm a father
I have kids with me
I don't have kids with me
I'm going to _____ (put in an amusement park name: Disneyland, etc.)
I'm in the military
I'm young
I'm old
I'm tall
I'm short
I'm thin
I'm fat
I just got my license (How would we know?)
I'm right handed (How would we know?)
I'm left handed (How would we know?)
I've had lots of tickets
I've never had a ticket
I'm ______ (put in any hair color)
I'm wearing a hat
I'm wearing a cowboy hat
I'm wearing a ______ (put in any team name: Cowboys, Bulls, etc.) hat
I'm wearing a ______ (put in any beer name) hat
I have a _____ (put in any team, beer, nation, etc. name) bumper sticker
I'm rich
I'm poor
I'm dressed up
I don't have fancy clothes
I'm going to the prom
I have ____ (put in any color eyes: blue, etc.) eyes
I don't speak English
I do speak English
you have nothing better to do
you have a quota
you ran out of donuts
your ____ (put in significant other's name: wife, etc.)'s mad at you
you've had a bad day
you are bucking for a promotion
you are trying to make up for bad performance levels in the past
your boss told you to
you couldn't get a real job
I'm out this early
I'm out this late
I'm a hard-working person
I'm out of work
your department needs the extra money
because you're part of a government conspiracy against _____(put in of the following: me, us, specific ethnic or national group)
because you are a Nazi
because I am a Nazi
because you are ____ (put in any age, ethnic, national group, political, religious group)"

And so it goes. I've heard a combination of almost everyone one of
these excuses. My reply has always been the same. "No, I stopped
you because you were going 80 MPH in a 65 MPH zone."


If you were to do a word association test with a comedian, the odds are good that if you gave them the word "Cop," the first thing they will say is "Donut." So what is it with cops and donut shops? Why do Officers seem to hang out there? What makes them so attractive? Is it the food? Is it the coffee? In many cases, it is neither.

Officers often spend more time writing reports than they do catching criminals. The proper documentation of their efforts is required for the prosecution of crooks, to insure that stolen property is returned to the proper parties, just to name a few. However, criminals seldom stop their dirty deeds while Officers are writing up the exploits of the last one they caught. Remaining close to the action is also important thing for Officers to consider. So, with all this writing to be done, and the need to be close at hand if they are needed, where can an Officer go to write?

Restaurants have nice tables; but, the lighting is not always that good. Have you ever tried to find a server with your bill when you had to suddenly leave? Many restaurants only have a limited number of tables. An Officer occupying an entire table and just drinking coffee is not fair to the business. Many restaurants also have booths. While a booth can be quite comfortable, have you ever tried to get out of the seats in a hurry? If an emergency situation develops in the restaurant, the Officer wants to have immediate freedom of movement. Officers must also monitor their radios. This "noise" can disturb diners.

In public dining places, people have a tendency to interact with the Officer. While much of this interaction is appropriate, it does interfere with the Officer's paperwork. It can be a bit hard to concentrate on your report when people are asking you lots of questions or discussing how they were harassed by some cops for being drunk in their front yard.

Officers also like to keep an eye on their surroundings. It is not unknown for an evil-minded person to try to sneak up on an Officer to inflict some sort of bodily harm on society's protector. Some members of the public may bear less ill will towards law enforcement, but they still wish to demonstrate their dissatisfaction. These feelings can manifest themselves by vandalism to law enforcement vehicles. Some criminals have even broken into patrol vehicles to steal the equipment inside. For these reasons, Officers like to be able to keep watch over their vehicles.

Well, you may ask, how about writing in the office? For some, this is an appropriate place. But, in many areas, the office is not close enough to the Officer's "beat" for a rapid response to a call. Also, most Officers would rather stay away from all of the "brass" at the office. You never know when they may volunteer you for a "special project" just because you are handy. Most offices are not build for rapid deployment of the patrol vehicles, either.

So, what is left? Covenience stores? No, they seldom have place to sit down. Libraries? I love them; but, listening to your radio there is impolite. Donut shops? Hmmmm. They have chairs and tables. The public is seldom there long enough to casually engage the busy Officer in conversation, while the Officer is trying to write. There are usually parking places in plain view where the Officer can watch their vehicle. They usually have lots of windows so the Officers can keep an eye on the surrounding territory. The radio noise seldom bothers anyone there. They are everywhere, thus allowing the Officer to be close to their assigned area. Many are also open "24/7" (as my daughter Sarah would say) making them handy at any time of the day or night.

And, you knew it was coming, they also have donuts. If you have seen my picture on these pages, you will know that I have been known to eat one or two. There is no getting away from the fact that some Officers are addicted to these delectable "gut bombs." Although, in all honesty, I've never eaten a donut in a public place while on duty. I think it looks bad. Donut shops also have coffee. Many more Officers drink coffee on the job than eat donuts. In reality, you may find more Officers at a donut shop to get some coffee than to get a donut! This is especially true on the late night and early morning shifts.

So, add it all up, convenience, assessability, low public contact and an occassional snack nearby, explains why many officers can be found at donut shops.

Which leads up to one of my favorite bumper stickers:

Bad cop, no donut!


What do you do when you see a vehicle, with a red light on, coming toward you? Do you hope it's looking for someone else? We all hope that the red light is not meant for us. But, do you know what you are really supposed to do when you see that red light? In plain language, you are supposed to pull over to right side of the road, stop, wait for the emergency vehicle to pass you, then safely reenter traffic. Simple enough, right? Well, maybe not for some people.

Getting to an emergency situation in a rapid and safe manner is one of the routine duties of California Highway Patrol Officers. All CHP Officers complete a rigorous emergency driving course as a part of our training. We are taught how to travel at high speeds, make quick lane changes, high speed backing, how to react on wet or slick roads, and numerous other skills. The one factor that is completely out of our control is the actions of other drivers. As a part of our training, we are taught that you should expect the unexpected from the motoring public. No where is that more obvious than when we are driving with our red light and siren in operation.

Some people have come up with some creative alternatives to the simple "go to the right and stop" rule. Some people will move over a lane to the right; but, keep going the speed limit. Others will move from the far right lane and go into the center divider. Some people change lanes from left to right and back again several times, like they cannot make up their mind what they want to do. I've seen some people slam on their brakes and come to a complete stop in the left hand lane. I've also seen people doing 20 MPH in the left lane of a city street acting totally oblivious to the fire truck with its lights on and sirens wailing only eight behind them. You can only hope it is not your house on fire!

Since most officers cannot read minds, we have to have a plan on how to avoid unexpected reactions from the motoring public when they notice our red light. One of the methods we use is to stay in the left lane and not to pass anyone in front of us or in the center divider. The theory here is that just as we go around someone, they might remember they are supposed to go to the right. They could suddenly change lanes and hit us. One of the important things about responding to an emergency situation, is getting there. A CHP Officer cannot perform first aid on a person hurt in a crash, catch a crook or help another officer in trouble, if we do not get there.

So, remember, when you see that red light, or hear a siren, even if it is coming at you from the front, just pull over to the right, and wait for them to go by. It will be safer for everyone.


You are driving along just listening to your radio and trying to remember what it was you were supposed to pick up at the grocery store, when suddenly, you notice a CHP patrol car behind you. You look down at your speedometer and you are going 15 MPH over the speed limit. By the red light on the CHP car, it is apparent that the CHP Officer has also noticed your speed. You pull over and the Officer comes up to your car. The Officer tells you why you were stopped, and asks for you driver's license and the vehicle's documentation. The officer then writes you a ticket for speeding. You sign the ticket and then drive away. When you get home, you sit down and look at the ticket in more detail. What exactly is this thing, anyway?

The ticket is titled "NOTICE TO APPEAR." In most cases, a ticket is a documentation of some offense. The ticket tells you what the officer thinks you did wrong and when you will have to go to court to handle the matter. In the box where you signed you name, it says: "without admitting guilt, I promise to appear at the time and place designated below." By signing the ticket, you are acknowledging its receipt and promising to go to court and handle the matter. In essence, by signing the ticket, you just "bailed yourself out." If you refuse to sign the ticket, in effect, you are not promising to appear in court. If you do not promise to appear in court, then the Officer is obliged to taken you there immediately. In most cases, this means your vehicle will be towed away, and you will be placed in handcuffs and taken to the court which has authority for the area where the violation occurred. Unfortunately for those people who refuse to sign the ticket, they do not go to the head of the line of the people waiting to see a Judge. It could take up to 72 hours before they get to see the Judge. They must spend that time waiting in jail. Even when you get to see the Judge, the trial does not start. The purpose of seeing the Judge is just to arrange for you to appear in a traffic court. The Judge will decide what it will take to get you to show up. Will you promise to appear and put that promise in writing? Or, will you have to post bail to insure you will be there? This decision is up to the Judge. Even when you feel that the Officer was completely wrong and you did not break any laws, it is so much easier if you just sign the ticket and promise to appear in court. When you get to traffic court, then you can tell the Judge why the Officer is wrong.
The ticket also has places for the Officer to note information about you, your vehicle, insurance information, and the time and place where you have to go to handle the matter.

Sometimes your offence is what is officially called a "dismissible violation." This is legal terminology for a "fix-it ticket." Normally, this type of violation is for some mechanical problem or defect with your vehicle. A burned out taillight is the type of violation which could get you a fix-it ticket. Usually to handle this matter, you must first correct the problem, then bring the vehicle and the ticket by a law enforcement agency where an officer will inspect the problem area to insure that it meets the legal requirements. If you have properly corrected the problem, the officer will sign the back of your ticket. You then present this to the court, and normally, the charges are dropped.

The best way to avoid getting a ticket is to not break the law. But, now that you know the procedures involved, if you do get a ticket, you will know what to expect.


Take a walk through your local auto parts store, and you will see a wide variety of "add-on" devices for your vehicle. There are door lock protectors, dashboard covers, license plate frames and CB radios, to name a few. However, not everything sold in your auto parts store can be legally used on the streets.

You may ask why you could get a ticket for putting something on your vehicle when you legally bought in an auto parts store. If it is illegal, why do they sell it? There is a simple answer to this. You can modify your vehicle in almost any way you choose. There are some really great looking vehicles that you can see at car shows. But, some modifications are not "street-legal." Many of the special vehicles you see at the car shows are towed there in special trailers. As long as the vehicle is not driven or parked on the streets, it can be modified in millions of different ways.

There are many examples of "illegal" modifications for vehicles which will be driven on the roads. The side windows directly to the left and right of the driver cannot have tinting applied to them by anyone other than the vehicle's manufacturer (i.e. Ford, Toyota, etc.). Even these tint jobs by the manufacturers have to meet very special standards. Flashing lights around your license plate are another type of violations which could get you a fix-it ticket. Changing your vehicle's lights will usually qualify you for a violation.

There are limits on how much you can lower or raise your vehicle from its original height. Tires are intended to be inside the body of the car. If you get some extra wide tires that stick out on the side, you will probably need to add some mud flaps, as well. Tire without proper tread are not only dangerous; but, a violation as well.

With a limited State budget, California seldom gives you a spare anything. This applies to license plates, as well. You are given two plates because you are required to have then permanently attached to the front and the back. Some sports cars were not designed for a front license plate; but, you are still required to have one. By the way, those see-through plastic covers they sell to put over your license plate are also against the law.

Certain modifications to your emissions system and some types of mufflers can also make you a candidate for a chat with a CHP Officer.

Putting together a vehicle for the race track or the auto show circuit can be a lifelong hobby and very rewarding. Many CHP officers are involved in these activities. Just remember though, that the track or the display grounds are not the streets. So before you "trick-out" you car & get a fix-it ticket, you might want to check with your local CHP office to make sure your modifications will be legal for use on the road.


You are driving down the freeway through some heavy fog at 64 MPH in a 65 MPH zone. Suddenly, you see a CHP car in your rear-view mirror and its red light is on. You pull over and cannot understand why you are being stopped. The Officer tells you that you were pulled over because in very heavy fog, doing the 65 MPH speed limit is an "unsafe speed for the conditions". The freeways and the streets were designed to be safe under most conditions. From time to time, though, special circumstances may develop which will require much more cautious driving skills. California law reflects these special circumstances.

The 'Basic Speed Law,' Section 22350 of the California Vehicle Code, says: "No person shall drive a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic on, and the surface and width of the highway, and in no event at a speed which endangers the safety of persons or property."

In heavy fog or blowing sand, your visibility can be dramatically reduced. You may go from several hundred yards of visibility down to just a few feet in a matter of seconds. Your ability to react to potential hazards in front of you is directly correlated to your ability to see the hazard. At 65 MPH, you are traveling at almost 100 feet per second. At that speed, it would take you many hundreds of feet to stop if something was blocking the road. Under these circumstances, the speed limit would actually be whatever speed would allow you to properly react to conditions in front of you.

Fog and blowing sand are just two of the many conditions which could affect the speed limit. Snow, ice, smoke, slick substances on the roadway, construction, even a crash on the roadway could reduce the speed at which you could safely travel.

Streets usually have a posted speed limit well below the 65 or 70 MPH of the freeways. The speed limit on a regular street is 25 MPH unless it is posted otherwise. The same factors that could reduce the speed limit on the freeway, could also lower the safe speed on a street. Icy roads can make it very difficult to maintain proper traction. This could make steering or stopping almost impossible at some posted speeds. School zones or speed bumps or potholes could also require you to adjust your speed.

Unlike freeways, where the posted speed limit is the absolute maximum (no matter what the "flow of traffic" is), you can actually exceed the posted speed on some streets under special circumstances. On a straight stretch of road with no visual obstructions or intersections, you might actually be able to go faster than the posted speed limit late at night when there are fewer vehicles on the road, and all of the businesses are closed. However, your idea of what a safe speed is might differ from that of the Officer, who is writing reports in a parking lot on the same street. While this exemption does exist, you are almost always better off not exceeding the posted speed limit.

Common sense should prevail whenever you are driving. When unusual conditions exist, you should take unusual care in operating your vehicle.


The California Highway Patrol was officially established as a State agency in 1929. Prior to that date, there were traffic officers working in many different areas; but, they worked for the counties in which they served. This led to some problems in that laws were enforced in different ways depending on where you were. Putting all the officers under one organization with clear rules and policies went a long way to improving the quality of service which the public received.

When the powers that were, considered what to call this new agency, they hit upon the name "California Highway Patrol." This simple name said it all. We were in California, we patrolled the highways. This seemed like the perfect name for a new organization. There was just one problem, the name "Highway Patrol" was already being used.

The American Automobile Association has been around for a long time. Their purpose is to help their members and their vehicles. They now use the services of contracted tow companies throughout the United States. But, back when the CHP was forming, they had trucks of their own patrolling the roads for disabled members. These trucks were emblazoned with the phrase "Highway Patrol" (see photo below).

Not wishing to preempt someone's name or to get involved in a lawsuit, officials of the CHP contacted AAA. They explained their desire to call this new law enforcement entity the California Highway Patrol. Both sides discussed the matter; and, it was decided that the CHP would get to use the name.

The adoption of the name "Highway Patrol" led to a few good-natured jokes among other law enforcement agencies. Quite often, other officers or deputies would call CHP officers the "AAA with a badge" or the equally popular "Auto Club with a gun." The ability to overcome adversity is one of the hallmarks of a CHP Officer. These kinds of jibes from other law enforcement groups are taken in stride by the CHP.

While other groups or organizations in California may use similar phrases or words, you can be sure there is only one, real "Highway Patrol", and that is the California Highway Patrol.

Autoclub of Southern Califoirnia 1923 Highway Patrol Service truck.


To quote from a popular song by Albert Hammond, "It never rains in southern California; but, girl, don't they warn ya, it pours, man it pours." Rain in southern California happens infrequently. It happens so seldom that many southern California drivers do not develop good wet weather driving skills.

The average vehicle weighs several thousand pounds, or more. Under certain conditions though, a small puddle of water, less than an inch thick, can cause it to slide across a freeway just as if it were on ice. This interesting, and insidious, wet weather conditions is called "Hydroplaning."

Hydroplaning can best be described by an example of something many of us have done as a child. On a calm body of water, if you throw it just right, you can make a rock skip across the water's surface. A good "rock skipper" can make the rock bounce several times before it finally sinks into the water. To make it work, you have to throw the rock at the right angle and at the right speed. Eevn the shape of the rock can be taken into consideration. When a shower hits southern California, shallow pools of water can quickly form on city streets and on the freeways. Just as a rock can glide across the water, tires can act the same way. Even though a car weighs much more than a rock, the principle is the same. If just enough water builds up in front of the tires, the tires will lift up on the water's surface. A simple way to avoid this is for your tires to be at their maximum air pressure. A soft or flattened tire provides more of a surface, and thus, a better chance of sliding. Many new tires are designed with channels to allow the water to flow through the thread. This will alleviate the hydroplaning effect.

Another way to avoid hydroplaning is to slow down before you go through shallow puddles. "Rock skippers" know that as their rock slows down, it will sink. This applies to vehicles, as well. When the tires get back on the road, you will regain control, again. While hydroplaning usually only lasts for a few seconds, that can be long enough for you to lose control of your vehicle. Spinning out of control in the rain, when other drivers cannot react as quickly, is a very dangerous situation.

The Morton's salt motto, "When it rains, it pours" comes to mind when you think of crashes in the rain. As any CHP Officer can tell you, the number of crashes increase dramatically in wet weather. So, inflate those tires, and slow down, because as The Who once said, no one wants it to "rain on me."


I am sure you have read a story in the newspaper or heard it on TV or radio about a car in the middle of nowhere running off the road, and even though there were no witnesses, the CHP is quoted as saying how fast the driver was going before the crash. How do we know how fast the vehicle was going before the crash, if no one saw it happen? "Skid Marks" can tell us.

Many years ago, The Traffic Institute at Northwestern University began analyzing vehicle crashes. They crashed vehicles under controlled circumstances. They measured speeds, tire tread, the friction of the roadway and several other factors. After analyzing enough information, they were able to develop several different formulas which could be applied to the average crash. One of these formulas is used to determine the minimum speed at which a vehicle was traveling at the time of a crash, based on its skid marks.

If you have ever had the opportunity to watch CHP Officers investigate a crash (and no, do NOT stop on the freeway to watch!), you will have noticed them measuring almost everything at the scene of the incident. There are several types of skid marks: straight, curved, intermittent, impending, locked wheels and several others. A curved skid is measured both along the skid mark, as well as directly from the beginning of the skid to the end of the skid. There is a formula specifically designed for curved skids. Other formulas are used for straight line skids. Each type of skid mark is a telltale clue which, when applied to the correct formula, will reveal the vehicle's speed. While we may never know the exact speed of the vehicle, we will know the minimum speed it would take to leave certain types of skids.

In some cases, the CHP will drag a special replica of a tire across the roadway to determine the exact degree of friction the roadway offers. We will sometimes even "reenact" emergency braking by similar vehicles to those in the crash, to determine how they react, and if the skid marks are similar.

All of these scientific tools, and more, are used by the California Highway Patrol to analyze collisions. It is this level of training which makes us one of the premiere law enforcement agencies in the world. If you are a high school student taking algebra and wondering "why do I need this stuff, I'm going to be a cop," think again. After all, law enforcement is more than just writing tickets.


I have made lots of safety presentations while working for the California Highway Patrol. I almost always mention seat belts, or safety belts as the politically correct call them. At most presentations, someone will say they know someone who was "thrown free" from their car during a crash and was uninjured, while people in the car were hurt seriously. Some direct questioning on my part will normally reveal that they really do not know this person, it was really just a story they heard from someone else who said they knew this person. Other people are also concerned about the possibility of seat belts causing more injuries than they prevent. While I am sure that some people have been thrown free from a crash and not been hurt, and someone receive more injuries from wearing a seat belt, this is more often an "urban myth" than reality.

For a five year period, I decided to keep track of the number of crashes I visited as a part of my job. I checked with the other officers when they investigated the crash, and I tallied my own observations when I was the primary investigator. In these several thousand crashes, I never saw a person who was "thrown free" who did not have serious injuries or was killed. I only saw a few people who were thrown free anyway, and they were either in the bed of a pickup, on a motorcycle, or came out the sunroof. Statistics show that you are 25 times more likely to die if you are "thrown free" from a car, than if you remain inside.

I also never saw a single person who had sustained more injuries from wearing a seat belt. I did come across two crashes were the occupants might have had more serious injuries if they had been wearing seat belts. Both of these crashes were almost identical. They involved vehicles going sideways at an extremely high rate of speed, and then hitting a power pole. Both vehicles were wrapped so far around a power pole that the front and the rear of the car almost touched each other. In these two highly unusual cases, someone wearing a seat belt might have been hurt worse. In both crashes, though, the occupants were almost killed, as it was.

"But what if I crash into a river, go upside down, and I can't get my seat belt off? I will drown." I hear this question from time to time. While this type of crash does not happen very often, it is possible. Consider it this way, if you are going so fast that you go off a road or bridge and into a river, you are going to hit hard. If you are not wearing a seat belt, the impact could easily knock you out. If you are unconscious, you could not get out of the car, let alone worry about a possible seat belt failure. The same logic applies to vehicles catching on fire. If you are so concerned about the highly unlikely possibility of your seat belts malfunctioning during a crash, then carry a small knife in your ash tray.

The law which requires people in California to wear seat belts contains an exemption for law enforcement Officers while on patrol. Many of the concerns mentioned above were not even seriously considered when this exemption was granted. The concerns of law enforcement Officers were the possibility of being trapped in your car if you were attacked by criminals, or the Officer's ability to rapidly leave the car at the end of a chase. Law enforcement agency bosses and Officer's Associations Representatives are very concerned about an Officer's safety. After considering the balance of Officer safety when facing a criminal sneaking up on them, and the ability to rapidly perform their duties; or, the possibility of an Officer being injured in a crash, these groups made a decision. Even though Officers have a legal exemption to the seal belt laws, most agencies still require their Officers to use them.

To sum it all up, while there are exceptions to every rule, seat belts do reduce injuries and save lives. You will be much better off if you use them, and use them properly.


Have you ever driven through a mountain pass and suddenly felt a strong gust of wind which shook your vehicle? It takes strong winds to do that. In California, there are many places where occasionally high winds and the surrounding terrain can cause these conditions to exist. A strong enough wind could cause you to lose control of your vehicle.

These conditions occur more often in some places than in others. In many of these places, Caltrans has set up automatic wind detectors. If winds get above a certain speed, a signal is sent to a Caltrans office. Here, people will advise the California Highway Patrol. A CHP dispatch center will then issue a "High Wind Advisory" for the area. This advisory is sent out on computers, over the Internet, as a "Sig Alert," and directly to the media. Caltrans even has some automatic signs which will turn on during high winds.

CHP Officers can also request that a high wind advisory be issued based on their assessment of local conditions. These winds can happen in mountain passes where winds are funneled into a small area, or even in open prairies as a "Santa Ana Wind" blows through.

The common warning is for "high-profile" vehicles to be extra careful in these area. A high profile vehicle could include semis, RVs, campers, vans and other similar vehicles. Even some smaller and lighter vehicles could also be affected. If high winds can uproot a tree or flip a tractor-trailer combo, they can certainly move you car. This also applies to motorcycles.

If you find yourself in an area where signs warn you of potentially gusty winds, you should tune in to a local radio station for traffic reports or advisories. This is especially important when the weather is changing. The CHP wants you to get where you are going, and to get there safely. You could save yourself a lot of grief if you find a sheltered place to wait out a high wind condition.


You come up to a stop sign at an intersection. As you approach, you slow down and look both ways. When you see that no one is coming, you decide to go on without coming to a complete stop. What you have just done is sometimes called a "California Stop."

A person doing a California Stop probably has a couple of things on their mind. Can I safely go through the intersection without stopping? Are there any other cars in the area? Is anyone crossing the street on foot or on a bicycle? Are there any Officers hiding behind that tree down the street?

What they are probably not thinking is, "Will not coming to a complete stop cost me more than a few seconds? Will not stopping use almost no more gasoline? How much will the ticket I get from that Officer that I did not see hiding behind that bush down the road cost?

Stopping for stop signs is one of the first thing that any new driver learns. It is one of the easiest tasks there is to do when driving a vehicle, as well. So, why is this such a common phenomenon that it has even acquired a name?

People do not stop at stop signs for several reasons. They are in a hurry and they want to save every fraction of a second they can. They are afraid their brakes are about to break. They are just to lazy to come to a complete stop (this applies to people who drive vehicles with manual transmissions). They just do not care about the stop sign laws. They are preoccupied. They figure slowing down is good enough. They are too important to be bothered by the laws written for all the other people.

Technically, the law requires you to come to a "full and complete" stop at a stop sign. This means that for a short period of time, your wheels are not moving. So, for the Officer wishing to strictly enforce the law, even if you slow down to a tenth of a mile per hour before you enter the intersection, if you do not completely stop, you are in violation of the law.

Why would an Officer write you a ticket for doing a California Stop? There are several possibilities. People in the neighborhood have complained about cars "running" the stop sign. So, an Officer will respond and write tickets for several days until people start stopping again. Some Officers are real sticklers for the law; and, a violation is a violation. An Officer may have seen a crash where people were hurt or killed because someone ran a stop sign; and, this is their way to send a message to the motoring community. The Officer may feel that the driver will not consider a warning seriously enough; and, will continue to run stop signs.

Regardless of why a person does a California Stop, coming to a complete stop is such an easy to do. By cutting California Stops" out of your driving pattern you may prevent a collision; or, avoid getting a ticket. Incidentally, when I lived in Texas, it was called a "Texas Stop." I wonder what they call it in Rhode Island?


You are traveling down the freeway in the middle lane, when suddenly, something goes wrong with your car. What do you do? The answer will depend on what has gone wrong. In almost every case, though, getting out of the traffic lanes should be one of your highest priorities.

By far, the safest place to be is off the freeway. Whenever possible, get off the freeway onto a street or a parking lot. Trying to change a tire only a few feet from cars going 65 MPH is not very safe. Inattentive drivers, or those drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol may drift out of the lanes and into your vehicle. Many "under the influence" drivers will turn their vehicles in the direction they are looking. A broken down car on the side of the road can become a magnet for a drunk driver. If I had a flat tire, I would risk damaging my rim by driving off the freeway, rather than just pulling over to the right shoulder, unless the shoulder is very wide. In most metropolitan areas, wide shoulders are very rare.

Have you ever seriously considered what you would do if you broke down on the freeway? Are you a member of an auto club? Do you have the phone number of a garage or a tow company handy? Do you know how to change a tire? Do you have a good spare tire? Does your spare have air in it? Do you know someone who could come and help you? Do you have enough fuel to get to your destination? Do you have a map, if you are driving in an area in which you are unfamiliar? These are all things you should think about BEFORE you have a problem.

If circumstances do not allow you to get off the freeway, though, here are some tips to make you time on the freeway safer. First, move your vehicle as far off the road as legally possible. Whenever possible, get your vehicle over to the right shoulder. Inattentive drivers, or those drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol may drift out of the lanes and into your vehicle. Many "under the influence" drivers will turn their vehicles in the direction they are looking. A broken down car on the side of the road can become a magnet for a drunk driver. If you stay in your vehicle, put on your selt belt and lock the doors. Unfortunately, I must recommend that you do not accept help from strangers. It is better to be safe than sorry. A sincere person will understand your reluctance for help. If you have to stop in the center divider, do not try to get across the busy freeway. Running across a freeway can be deadly! Many drivers have cellular phones & will report your condition to the local authorities. Your life is worth a few more minutes of delay.

When you help arrives, try to get you vehicle fixed, or off the road as soon as possible. If you can fix your vehicle, remember to speed up on the shoulder before pulling back into traffic. A slow moving vehicle pulling out in front of vehicles going at freeway speeds has caused many crashes.

Break downs are almost always unexpected. By making a few advance preparations, you can help get yourself back on the road quicker and much more safely.
























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