Oops: Chinese Tourists Pulled Over At Gunpoint Over Cultural Confusion

Filed Under: Videos

We’re so used to hearing about police situations that don’t end well nowadays, so this is sort of a cute story (I think?). A family visiting from China was cruising down Interstate 8 in Mission Valley (near San Diego) on Sunday night, when the police turned on their sirens and started pursuing them.

Since being pulled over is a very rare occurrence in China, the family didn’t realize that they were supposed to pull over when the police turned on their sirens, so they kept driving. That led to a pursuit for several miles, before the family finally pulled over.

The woman stepped out of the car confused, at which point the officers drew guns at her. Suffice to say it was probably the first time the police got in a pursuit where the driver legitimately didn’t know they were supposed to pull over.


The family was let go simply with an explanation of traffic laws in the US, and the police even gave the kid (who understandably looked frightened) some San Diego Police Department stickers and a high five.

Here’s a video from the local ABC 10 affiliate:

At least it seemed to end well!

(Tip of the hat to The Shanghaiist)

  1. Okay, I’ll say what everyone is thinking. It’s a miracle that they didn’t get shot.

  2. Reiterating its a miracle they didn’t get shot and how did the news crew get there so quickly lol. I

  3. Um…clearly she knew. This is standard law in China as well. How oblivious can you be???? She knew what she was doing. But yeah, getting out of the car in China/Taiwan/Singapore/HK is seen as normal and not threatening.

  4. If you have a driver’s license shouldn’t you know to pull over when you have a police car flashing lights and following you? You’d think that was learned in Driver’s Ed, no?

  5. I doubt that these people did not know what they were doing. It’s common sense for anyone (literally from anywhere) to pull over if being followed by the police and stay still. Typical for the Chinese to act like they are above the law or any cultural norms. Should have arrested them for non violent resisting arrest.

  6. @Leo – “Why did they need to pull their guns at all?”

    Maybe because the people they were trying to stop kept driving for miles before they finally pulled over?

    “Are guns always pulled for traffic violations the US?”

    No, not all the time. If something like this happens, then maybe. Or if the car matches the description of one used in a crime, or one of the occupants is wanted for a crime, it might happen. But for a normal traffic ticket, it’s not likely to happen.

  7. @Tony — Can you please post evidence of your doctorate in econometrics or some other quantitative social science that confers expertise in causal inference? Or are you just guessing? FWIW, a black Harvard prof has already debunked the claim of racial bias in police shootings.

    It is just as plausible to say these Chinese people didn’t get shot because they did not act threatening.

  8. @mstrchang I don’t know how you call this standard procedure in China as i have never been pulled over in China before. In China, violations to traffic offenses are caught by cameras instead of police actually going on streets to pursuit. Indignants don’t get pulled over, they just receive a ticket.

    Interesting enough three years ago my dad was driving on I-5 in Mendocino County and a police car went to chase him and he didn’t know he need to pull over as well. It’s pretty common for Chinese drivers to not know this.

  9. Why did they need to pull their guns at all? Are guns always pulled for traffic violations the US?

    @Leo – it wouldn’t be America if guns weren’t involved. Haven’t you heard? “America wins first in shooting event.”

  10. I used to live in San Gabriel Valley in Southern California, where there are tons of Chinese folks.

    This explains why whenever there was an emergency vehicle (ambulance, fire truck, police) with their sirens blaring, nobody ever pulled over or made room and would just continue driving as usual.

  11. Over here whre I live (belgium) a police car with lights on means that they are exceeding the speed limit and you should let them pass (as with lights and sounds on they are a priority vehicle). It doesn’t mean: pull over and stop.

    If you need to pull over, they will drive in front of you with a follow me sign lighting up or will drive next to you and give hand signals to pull over.

    So if i would see them in my rear view mirror I would keep driving on the right lane untill soecifically instructed to pull over. I can undrstand the confusion.

  12. @Carl – I agree with you. Exactly the same used to be the case in the former socialist countries in Europe (Hungary, Poland, Romania). They always got in front of you, that meant you had to stop.

  13. “…drew gunS at her” holy crap!!! why do US police have a need to escalate the situation? Obviously, the driver was not threatening nor had her own weapon – that surely would have been reported. And as already commented, it is normal in many countries around the world for police to drive around with their siren lights flashing. In Costa Rica, it’s the law and is meant to make them more visible and let people know the police are on duty to protect citizens, not threaten them for no reason.

  14. But no one has yet asked or explained why the police car was chasing them in the first place. If they did something wrong other than ignore the siren, why weren’t they ticketed? Are they allowed to give chase just for the heck of it?

    Also, I have no doubt that their being Chinese resulted in the immediate assumption that they were not criminals, so the police relaxed their guard. I too am a member of a non-white ethnic group that benefits from the assumption that we are respectable—which is just as racist as when the assumption is the opposite.

  15. Oh look, it’s @Tony the race baiting troll. Maybe take a look at official FBI crime statistics available on their website before you spout your vitriol.

  16. From where I live in China (Fuzhou), drivers are supposed to make way at the next available convenience when the police vehicle has the light on. Drivers should stop immediately and make way for the police car with light and sound on, as the light and the sound mean the police vehicle is speeding up or they need a free lane in front of them. When the police try to pull over a car, they drive at side or in front to give clear signal.

    I find the rules are more or less the same in UK, Germany, Czech, Spain and Denmark.

  17. @Luke – “And as already commented, it is normal in many countries around the world for police to drive around with their siren lights flashing.”

    Except this incident didn’t take place in “many countries around the world,” it took place in the United States. And in the United States, when a cop car is behind you with lights & sirens going, it means you need to pull over. When in Rome…

  18. @Nora @mstrchang Chinese drivers can drive on US soil with a translation form of their driver’s license, so they of course haven’t received US driver tests. In China, and almost all Asian countries, police never pul over you. They just use cameras to photo you if you violate the traffic laws. In Chinese driver tests, police vehicles with sirens on means that you need to get as far away from them as possible so that you won’t get into their way.

  19. Bottom line is that if they are driving in the US, they should have at least a basic understanding of the laws. I have driven in a lot of different countries and tried to understand how it worked in each country. Anyone with half a brain would also think it was important to know what the laws/customs are.

  20. If they did not study the law beforehand then they probably should not come visit ‘Merica.
    Just a bunch of uneducated unmannered who thinks money could get them everything these Chinese.

  21. @john smith — if you do not proofread or understand grammar you probably should not comment on this blog.

    Just a bunch of racist D bags looking for any excuse to bash people who look different.

  22. @Chuck Lesker — however unfortunate, this is just applied probability and statistics. When was the last time a Chinese person shot a cop in America?

    I’m sure the officers whose lives are on the line would rather be “racist” than dead!

  23. This article only shows how short-sighted americans are. They only have heard about there own overworked, stressed and fast-shooting police. In the rest of the world the rules are completely different as mentioned by many people above. I had the same experience 17 years ago in Vancouver. I had no idea I had to stop. When I stopped and wanted to get out of the car (that is the polite way we do it in Europe), they asked me to sit in the car and open the window. After they checked my papers I got some good advice: “Never do this in the US because they will shoot you as you get out of the car.”

  24. LOL y’all know the only reason why lucky would post something like this – which by the way in case you haven’t noticed has got NOTHING to do with airlines, lounges or hotels – is for the resulting flurry of site activity, right?

  25. First time I was pulled over in the US, I had absolutely zero idea what the police officer wanted. As others have mentioned, police almost never pull over drivers in Asian countries. Lights + siren, to me, means get out of the way RIGHT NOW, so I got pretty confused when the police car slowed down to match my slower and slower speed, instead of rushing to where he needed to go! And yes, I have a US drivers license and no, this was never taught nor tested at any point in the process of getting that license.

  26. No idea what happened but sirens and lights in less violent countries simply means ‘make place’.
    I’m at a total loss why in the US everything needs to be done in over hyped mode with guns, screams and panic. Looks pretty underdeveloped to me, not to say scary. No wonder jails are overloaded there, violence triggers violence.

  27. @ Carl: Same in Germany. Flashing lights and siren means “get out of my way”. For stopping, the police car would go in front and show a “Follow me” sign.

  28. The fact a story involving a family having lethal weapons pointed at them can be described as “cute” is precisely why I despise US culture so much…

    And to the people claiming it, no, drawing weapons at people who have shown no signs of threatening behaviour (fleeing is not threatening, quite the opposite in fact…) is not standard procedure around the world. The US is the only “stable” country I know that polices it’s citizens with the presumption they’re going to be killed at any moment.

  29. We can deny all we want unfortunately skin color matters in this country. If we acknowledge there exits a problem, we can fix it. Until then we are just in denial.

  30. This is very interesting and long debates can come out of this news. Having lived in different countries in North America, Asia and Europe, I feel that as a tourist if you go visit a country and want to drive there, at LEAST study the local driving rules and laws before you start renting a car! Of course it is not always possible to understand the local culture and language, and I bet many US drivers do not study their local laws before traveling to Europe. Secondly, I agree with some people that because the girl appeared young and Chinese, the police probably felt 0 threat, and there was a kid in the car so with common sense, they knew that the family didn’t speak English and there was no point scaring them. In Europe, police do not pull over cars when flashing lights, and in China, people do not see guns often (if at all in their lifetimes). So, for the family they are lucky and have learned a lesson.

  31. @Jason

    Lets not draw guns at every black on roads and insult every brown person at airports. Not achieving anything by doing so.

    Lets not hire hotshot high school quarterbacks, give two weeks training and a arm and call them cops.

    May be cop cruisers need to have a boom with cameras, breath analyzer and other sensors to verify offending vehicle and its occupants. Cops can do this at the comfort of their seat. Cop can order occupants to exit the vehicle if required.

    Safe for everyone involved.

  32. @Jason – “Lets not hire hotshot high school quarterbacks, give two weeks training and a arm and call them cops.”

    What law enforcement agency has a training program that only lasts two weeks? Most of the ones I’m aware of last months.

  33. In Singapore,
    When a police car wants to stop you, it overtakes you and use its car to “block” you from proceeding further. Then the police officer expects you to step out of your car, and go the the police car (in front of you) to talk to the officer. Certainly, the police officer will not walk to your car, while you are still inside. What if you suddenly reverse your car and drive off? The poor officer would then have to rush back to the police car to give chase! So you are the one who must get out of the car first…

    So what should you do, if the police car does not overtake you, but instead keeps sounding its siren behind you? Well, it means your car is moving way too slowly, and is obstructing the police car! So please accelerate immediately and drive faster and faster (if it’s a single lane road), or drive to the side (if it’s multi-lane), until you are as far away from the police car as possible! Under no circumstances should you suddenly stop and “block” the police car from proceeding on its way to attend to some emergency!

    This, I believe, is standard in all commonwealth countries, and much (all?) of Europe.

    When I first came to USA, I took the state driving test (because conversion of license is not allowed (except for Canadian?)) and passed it easily (since I have driven for more than 10 years outside USA).

    But no, nothing in the theory test ever teach or test me on how I should react when a police car sounds its siren behind me. So, I did not know of this unique aspect of US driving law / custom / culture despite my having a full-brain (as opposed to the “half-brain” that some jerks insinuate of my “type”, in earlier comments).

    One fine day, on a single-lane street (one lane each direction), a police car sounded its siren behind me. Seeing that there is no other lane that I could filter to, immediately I stepped on the gas pedal and sped off! I had to – my car was travelling too slowly and obstructing the police car from going to its important emergency.

    The police car still sounded its siren, despite my going faster and faster! So I slowed down, to let it overtake. But it didn’t! It slowed down too. After alternately speeding and slowing down, I finally decided to stop completely (so that there is no difficulty whatsoever for the police car to overtake me and go on its way). I had the engine still on. The police officer came out and bellowed at me: “Pull over to the side. Off the engine. NOW!”

    And so I did that – expecting him to get back to his vehicle to overtake me, now that my stationary car can be overtaken easily. But no, he went back to his vehicle and upon ascertaining that I had switched off the engine, he came back at me!

    So, very puzzled, I went out of my car to meet him and he bellowed at me again: “GET BACK TO YOUR CAR! RIGHT NOW! SIT INSIDE! DON’T MOVE.” Then he took my license, went back to his police car and made me wait a long, long, long time….

    All these while, I was wondering why he was no longer pursuing the emergency that made him sounded the siren in the first place. I thought, maybe the emergency was no longer an emergency. But still, why did he stopped me, and why did he want my license – after all, I didn’t commit any traffic offense, otherwise he would have overtaken my car and block it….

    (Anyway, to cut a long story short, he gave me a warning for a minor traffic offense – turning when there was a no-turn sign hanging from the traffic light overhead)

    That night, I learnt 3 other things (apart from what to do when a police car has its siren on) :
    1. The long long wait after giving him my license, was due to the police doing some criminal check on me, through communicating with its HQ. He was not sitting in his car, trying to find some missing pen or missing traffic ticket notepad, as I wrongly thought!! (Back where I came from, if they stop you for a traffic violation, that’s what they handle – the traffic violation. They do not make you wait, while they conduct some criminal check, because that’s simply not why they stopped you in the first place.)

    2. American police actually has the discretion to issue or not issue you a traffic citation! They can actually let you off with a warning, even after stopping you. Back home, if the police stop me, it has already decided to ticket me (barring any wild stories that I am trying to drive a pregnant woman in labor to the hospital etc).

    3. That night, I also looked up the internet about my then-puzzling encounter. And I learned: I should keep my hands on the steering wheel, lest the police officer misunderstood my attempt to get my driving license, as reaching for a gun!

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *