Bill to Let Driver Seek Safe Spot in Police Stop Gains

Times Staff Writer

The Assembly passed legislation Wednesday that would allow drivers being pulled over by police to proceed a "reasonable distance" to a safe spot before stopping.

The measure, by Assemblyman Larry Stirling, is in response to two San Diego cases--one in which a California Highway Patrolman has been charged with murdering a college student after stopping her car late at night, and another in which a woman was arrested by sheriff's deputies for failing to stop on a back-country road until she reached the lighted parking lot of a convenience store.

Stirling, a San Diego Republican, said the two cases and others demonstrate that the law needs to be changed to allow drivers more freedom to decide where they should stop for police.

Under the measure, which was approved on a bipartisan vote of 44 to 27 and sent to the Senate, a driver ordered to pull over would be able to "proceed a reasonable distance to the first available place of safety before stopping" if the motorist first signaled the intention to stop.

The bill defines a "place of safety" as a spot "with adequate lighting if at nighttime, far enough from traffic lanes for personal safety, and not unnecessarily remote or inaccessible."

'Item of Necessity'

Stirling predicted that the bill could be implemented without much change in current practice. He said that in most cases officers already direct motorists to a safe, lighted place.

"I think this is a fair item of necessity to allow the people of California to make that balance between their law enforcement officers' rights and safety and their own personal safety," Stirling said.

Assemblyman Paul E. Zeltner (R-Lakewood) argued that the bill, which has been opposed by law enforcement agencies throughout the state, would needlessly place officers in jeopardy. He described the nighttime stop as "one of the most dangerous situations" an officer can face.

"An officer is taught that it is necessary to pick and choose a place most appropriate for his safety and (the motorist's) when he indicates that he wants them to stop," Zeltner said. "This is completely in opposition to everything taught to officers for their own personal safety."

Prompted by Slaying

Stirling said the bill was prompted by the slaying in 1986 of Cara Knott, a 20-year-old San Diego State University student who was killed near a darkened off-ramp on Interstate 15 in San Diego. Former CHP Officer Craig Peyer is on trial for murder in that case.

Shortly after Knott's death, a woman from the small eastern San Diego County town of Jamul was arrested and jailed briefly by sheriff's deputies after she drove about 1 1/2 miles down a dark and winding road before she felt that it was safe to stop for patrolmen who had approached her car from behind.

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