Raleigh, NC – A North Carolina lawmaker has proposed legislation that would allow the state’s members of Congress to drive with blue emergency lights flashing on top of their cars.
“There are frequently times when they’re trying to meet deadlines,” Democratic North Carolina State Senator Floyd McKissick explained, according to WRAL.
North Carolina State Senate Bill 618 includes only current members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
And, under the new law, those members of Congress could only run the blue lights on their officially-registered vehicles – with a designated license plate – and only “in the performance of the member’s official duties.”
Current North Carolina law prohibits anyone who is not law enforcement from having a blue light on the roof of their vehicle. Doing so is a misdemeanor, WRAL reported.
SB 618 was co-sponsored by Republican State Senator Danny Britt
McKissick said it was his understanding that members of Congress were allowed to drive with blue lights in other states, WRAL reported.
However, Blue Lives Matter was unable to identify any states that allowed representatives and senators to utilize emergency lights on their personal vehicles.
McKissick said the request for the privilege of driving with blue lights on his personal vehicle had come from 1st District U.S. Representative G.K. Butterfield (D-North Carolina), WRAL reported.
“So they could get out of situations where their life would be at risk,” the bill’s sponsor explained.
But Retired Washington Metro Transit Police Captain William Malone said putting elected officials behind the wheel during a crisis could be very dangerous.
Capt. Malone said law enforcement officers take an Emergency Vehicle Operator Course (EVOC) that teaches them how to safely navigate a vehicle during an emergency.
“If it’s that urgent for a politician to get somewhere, why not put them in the closest police car for the ride to the airport? Or have a state trooper detailed as their driver,” he proposed. “That way we don’t have to worry about whether the decision to use the lights is purely an ego thing.”
Cpt. Malone pointed out that other vehicles have a reaction to the lights as well – whether it be to slow down or move over – seeing those lights in the rear view mirror conveys a message to the drivers of the vehicles they get behind.
Scott MacLatchie, a law enforcement attorney, told WRAL that it would be too confusing for other drivers on the roads.
“It likely may confuse motorists,” MacLatchie said. “Obviously if they’re driving in the fast lane with a blue light on I’m assuming vehicles will pull over and get out of the way and maybe that’s the intent of it but legally, they’d have to be operating within the speed limit.”
Former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt suffered a bi-partisan mocking by members of Congress in April of 2018 after it was revealed he repeatedly asked his detail to use lights and sirens to move him through traffic in the nation’s capital.
The New York Times reported that the then-EPA boss wanted to “use flashing lights and sirens in his motorcade… to expedite local trips in Washington to the airport or to dinner, including at least one trip to Le Diplomate, a trendy French restaurant that he frequented.”
The use of lights and sirens to bypass traffic was only one of the 23 ethics violations Pruitt was facing when he resigned in June of 2018.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were amused and confused when they were asked if they would want to be able to use lights and sirens on their own vehicles, the Huffington Post reported.
“I didn’t know they stopped traffic for members or senators,” U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) said. “I thought they stopped traffic for the President, foreign leaders and the Vice President.”
U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) laughed out loud when the question was posed, according to the Huffington Post.
Schatz said his driver used lights “based on the security circumstances, not your dinner schedule.”
“The only time they used blue lights was in case of emergency or real safety concerns,” he continued. “You never used it for convenience. It was not at your discretion as the protectee; it was the head of the detail that made a determination.”