Safety of traffic stops back in the spotlight

Attorney explains how you can protect yourself

SAN DIEGO - The arrest of San Diego police Officer Christopher Hays has put the safety of traffic stops back in the spotlight.

More than half a dozen women have come forward accusing him of sexual assault or battery. In one case, a woman claims Hays asked her whether her husband was home and if not – could he follow her home and fix her tail light.

"If you're ever given a directive to go back to your residence or somewhere where you're uncomfortable, that's always a red flag," said attorney Duane Bennett, who has served as a legal advisor for area police stations.

While the law requires you to pull over, Bennett says there are things a woman can do to remain as safe as possible.

"You never want to be pulled over in a dark, unlit, isolated area and police officers are trained not to pull you over in those types of areas for their safety," he said.

This became a major fear for female drivers in San Diego in 1987, following the arrest and conviction of former California Highway Patrol Officer Craig Peyer, who directed 20-year-old Cara Knott off Interstate 15 onto a dark, desolate offramp and then beat and strangled her before throwing her body off a 65-foot bridge.

"The fear and dread she must have felt when the monster forced her so far down that dark offramp away from light and safety," said Cara's sister, Cynthia Knott.

Bennett says you can always ask an officer to move to a better lit area. That officer might not always say yes, but you can ask.

One of the best ways you can safeguard yourself, Bennett said, is to ask the officer to record the traffic stop with audio and or video.

"Once that recorder goes, or starts going, that's evidence of the contact and could be evidence of a crime or at least a recording of the incident," said Bennett.

Bennett also says if you get pulled over when it is dark, make sure your interior car lights are on as well as your headlights.

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