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Behind the Badge Every excuse in the book used when lights left off while driving at night

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Posted: Monday, January 3, 2011 12:00 am

You ever see a car driving at night without headlights and think, "What an idiot," then immediately check to make sure yours are on?

Those of us Lodi Police Department officers who work nights see a lot of cars driving without lights. In addition to obviously being against the law, it is a huge safety hazard, and a frequent cause of collisions.

I would assume that most of us have gotten pretty comfortable with driving, and don't go through a pilot's check list before departing to the grocery store in the family mini-van, and therefore may miss a thing or two from time to time. I have stopped dozens, if not hundreds of vehicles for driving without lights on.

We as police officers have heard pretty much every reason or excuse there is. I could probably write a book. Hmmm ... never mind.

Here are just a couple of the things we hear:

1. "I'm sorry, I just didn't notice."

This one I can understand, but only for about the first 30 seconds of driving. It worries me a little that someone can drive all the way through town with no lights on at all and not notice.

I could understand if you're distracted on the cell phone, but I know you would never do that.

Another part of that, though, is you have no dash lights either. That leads me to believe that in addition to not noticing the street in front of them was dark, they don't look at their speedometer or instrument cluster either.

2. "I'm just borrowing the car."

Now maybe it's just me, but I like to know how things work before I need them. I realize this goes against the way many people think, and I realize I am a little OCD at times, but that is a whole other discussion.

I have borrowed or driven dozens of different model cars, and have always spent a half-minute figuring out where the headlight switch, wiper switch and radio controls were. (Actually, first I get either the air conditioning or seat warmers going, given the time of year.)

3. "The lights are automatic and come on when they are supposed to."

This one might be my personal favorite. It generally takes everything I have to keep the sarcastic comedian in my head from blurting out, "Well, I guess your car knows best, and has somehow figured out that even in pitch darkness you don't need lights. Maybe your car thinks you are wearing night vision goggles, and turning on the lights would only make it worse."

But of course I don't (OK, I did once), and I politely explain that possibly the headlight switch has been changed from its automatic setting. But even if the lights don't come on (yes, I know they are automatic), it is the driver's duty to manually turn the switch to "on."

I apologize if I have offended anyone, but we all have to share the roads, and we all want to get where we are going safely. It is the holiday season, and there are twice as many people on the road, in twice as big of a hurry, paying half the attention they should, and all trying to get their shopping or returns done.

So please, just drive just a little slower, stay a few extra feet away from the car in front of you, check your windshield wipers and all your lights and be patient. Have a safe new year.

Any comments, questions or advice for Behind the Badge can be e-mailed to Jeanie Biskup at jbiskup@pd.lodi.gov; mailed to Lodi Police Department, 215 W. Elm St., Lodi, CA 95240; or asked by phone at 333-6864.

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