You must have seen police cars or vans patrolling the city roads to avoid traffic rules or catch culprits. How do you identify them? Of course, by their unique markings all over the body, a loud siren, visible flashing lights, and so on. But what about police cars that patrol the city roads without any of these, say without markings?
Yes, there is a special fleet of police cars called unmarked cars in the United States.
These cars are generally useful to catch drivers appearing to be violating traffic rules or for other offenses. Each state has its own rules for such unmarked police cars, as described below. So, let’s start.
Are Police Cars Always Marked?
No, it is not mandatory for police cars to have visible markings to be called police cars.
As said above, unmarked police cars are also common in the United States.
These serve other purposes while patrolling. For example, to do undercover work, catch culprits without informing them about you being a cop, and so on.
Hence, police cars are not always marked. However, whether such cars are legal or not depends upon several factors.
Unmarked police car laws by state
The following is the exclusive list of all 50 states of the United States and their laws for unmarked police cars.
Here, it is not allowed for police to use any vehicle without the following for any purpose.
- At least a single red flashing light
- Police officer’s identity
- Driver must be in uniform
If any of these aren’t present, the police cannot use the car.
In Idaho, the rules for police cars are also the same as in California. However, it is currently proposing changes in the same. Thus, Idaho may allow unmarked cars in the future.
Again, it is not allowed to drive a police car without at least a single red flashing light, siren, officer’s identity, and an officer’s uniform. It is because all these denote that the car is of a police officer.
In West Virginia, the police code lists similar guidelines for the police cars used for official and unofficial duty. That is, unmarked cars are illegal here.
In Oklahoma, the set of rules listed in California are valid for all police cars. That is, no unmarked cars can run on both official and unofficial duty.
However, unmarked cars or vans are legal only for undercover investigations or confidential duties. Besides, an unmarked car is not legal.
In New Mexico, too, only confidential and undercover investigative jobs can use unmarked cars. Hence, you need not stop for any unmarked car if it is not on the above duties.
The rules for using unmarked cars in Montana are similar to those in Washington, DC, and New Mexico.
In Illinois, the police can use unmarked cars. However, they must have emergency lights if they are in high-speed situations.
In Maine, the laws for unmarked police cars are similar to those in Illinois. However, such cars are illegal in continuous pursuit.
Here, unmarked vehicles are legal for only traffic surveillance operations. Moreover, such vehicles can’t pull over any other vehicle. Still, police can stop you for common vehicle offenses in an unmarked car.
In Connecticut, the rules for unmarked police cars are similar to those in New York.
In addition to the rules in New York, Pennsylvania, police need to present their identification cards. Further, the officers must wear their uniforms and stop the vehicle at the safest place possible.
The unmarked rules of New York are also valid in New Jersey.
In Texas, unmarked police vehicles are legal for patrolling and pulling vehicles over. However, the officers must wear their uniforms and present their identity cards on request. If the vehicle attempts to flee, only a marked vehicle can chase it.
The unmarked police car laws of Texas are also valid in Louisiana.
Besides the rules of Texas, Virginia police need to carry emergency lights and sirens to stop traffic violators.
In Rhode Island, unmarked cars are legal only if the officer is in uniform. Additionally, they must stop any vehicle at the safest place possible.
Though Iowa allows unmarked vehicles for patrolling purposes, it is slowly moving towards only marked vehicles.
In North Carolina, at least 83% of the highway patrol vehicles must have proper markings, sirens, etc. Plus, unmarked vehicles are only allowed in situations where they are useful and the best option.
In Tennessee, the police can use both marked and unmarked cars to catch offenders anywhere they want to.
Again, both marked and unmarked cars are legal throughout the state.
In Arkansas, the laws for unmarked vehicles are the same as in Colorado.
In Delaware, the majority of the unmarked cars are for the detectives who are never on traffic duty; however, other officers can also use an unmarked car.
Although there are no restrictions on the use of unmarked cars in Hawaii, they must have distinctive blue emergency lights on the top of the car when & where necessary.
In Arizona, the rules for using unmarked police vehicles are the same as those in Tennessee.
For Florida police, there are no restrictions on the use of unmarked vehicles.
In addition to the rules of the unmarked car in Tennessee, the police in Missouri must carry a red flashing light and siren with them.
In Utah, the police have the liberty to use unmarked vehicles for maintaining law and order in the state.
In Alabama, the rules for using unmarked police vehicles are the same as those in Tennessee.
Again in South Dakota, the use of unmarked police vehicles is without restrictions as in Tennessee.
For the Massachusetts police, the unmarked car rules are the same as those in South Dakota.
In Georgia, the use of unmarked vehicles is legal with certain restrictions. For example, these cars must have officers in uniform. Secondly, officers in special units such as crime suppression units, investigation units, or gang units can use unmarked cars for their unofficial duties.
Here, the use of unmarked vehicles is legal; however, the officer can only arrest if they are in uniform and using a marked vehicle for arresting purposes.
The Maryland police can file charges using an unmarked vehicle; however, not pull overusing the same. The siren and emergency lights must be on.
In Minnesota, all unmarked vehicles are legal for patrolling highways and roads. However, these must have a door shield (MSP decal).
The unmarked police car rules in Kansas are similar to that of Minnesota.
In Mississippi, the commissioner of public safety authorizes the use of unmarked vehicles for patrol.
In Vermont, the use of unmarked vehicles is legal for only patrolling as in Mississippi.
Here, unmarked cars are legal for only traffic enforcement. However, the officer must wear their uniform while on duty.
In Michigan, the rules for unmarked police cars are a bit unique. That is, only the enforcement agencies can use unmarked vehicles to catch offenders. Upon catching, the officer in the unmarked car must inform another officer in a marked car for pulling the offender or distracted driver over.
In Oregon, police units such as undercover investigation units can use unmarked cars issued by the state. All other cars must have clear and visible markings.
In Nebraska, only emergencies allow the use of unmarked vehicles by the police for pulling over a vehicle.
Here in Alaska, the same rules as in Nebraska are valid.
In New Hampshire, the police cars are slowly turning into unmarked black cars. Plus, there are only hidden lights in these cars against the rooftop lights.
In Ohio, most police departments use both marked and unmarked cars. However, for an officer to enforce traffic laws, a marked car is a must.
In North Dakota, unmarked cars are legal to use. However, the officer on duty needs to use either a horn, siren, or flashing lights such as red lights or a combination of red and white lights while giving appropriate warning to the driver.
Besides the above laws operational in North Dakota, the Kentucky government authorizes emergency lights throughout any stop.
In Wyoming, a combination of red and blue lights is mandatory for unmarked vehicles. Furthermore, it is not legal for any unmarked vehicle to stop any vehicle except in emergencies.
In Wisconsin, the rules for the use of unmarked police cars are similar to that of Wisconsin.
So, this is the list of all 50 American states and their laws for the use of unmarked vehicles.
What states use unmarked police cars?
I have compiled the states where unmarked police cars are completely legal to use in the following list.
- Washington DC
- New Mexico
- New York
- New Jersey
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
- New Hampshire
- North Dakota
So, these are the states in the United States where either unmarked police cars can operate without limitations or with certain limitations and by particular individuals.
Do you need to stop for an unmarked police car?
Whether you need to stop for an unmarked police car or not depends upon several factors. For example, below are a few of them.
- The state you are currently living in.
- The laws for the unmarked police car in your state of living.
- Your level of offense.
These are the most important factors that determine whether you should stop for an unmarked vehicle or not.
Different states have different laws for the same.
While some states authorize any random stopping on the road by an unmarked car, others don’t. Thus, you should know the laws of your state.
Next comes the level of your offense.
In some states, the unmarked police car can’t stop you from any great offense unless and until it has a marked police car with it.
On the other hand, some states have made it legal for unmarked police cars to stop, pull over, or even arrest the culprit irrespective of the level of crime.
Can unmarked cars pull people over?
Yes, an unmarked police car can pull people over depending upon the state and its laws regarding the operation of unmarked police cars.
For example, while some states have no restrictions and allow pulling people over anytime, others don’t. The latter instead allows pulling over by a particular marked vehicle.
Another category of states allows uniformed officers in unmarked vehicles to pull over people safely and present their identification badges on request.
Hence, there is no exact answer to whether unmarked police cars can pull people over or not.
Can police patrol in unmarked vehicles?
Yes, police can patrol in unmarked vehicles in some states such as New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Texas, and others.
What to note here is that some states list out a few requirements for the officers.
For example, the officer on duty in an unmarked car must have the proper uniform, identification badge, siren, emergency lights, and so on.
Without any of these, it’s illegal to patrol in an unmarked police vehicle.
Further, if the police officer finds it important to pull over the vehicle while patrolling, they would have to ask another marked vehicle.
Different countries, states, and cities have different rules and regulations for unmarked vehicles.
At the same time, some states don’t allow the operations of unmarked police cars, such as California, Idaho, and North Carolina. Other states such as Tennessee, Florida, and Utah have no restrictions for the same.
Though marked and unmarked police vehicles have the same purpose of maintaining law and order, the latter is better in this regard.
It is because they can catch the culprits without their knowledge.
Thus, the success rate of catching the culprit is likewise higher. Lastly, this article presented the unmarked police vehicle laws in all the 50 American states and other useful information.