Darroch Ball: The facts about a ‘no pursuit policy’

Opinion 13/04/2019

By Darroch Ball, New Zealand First MP.

It has been suggested that if police pull out of pursuits it will save lives, and that those drivers who flee will be apprehended later and held to account. When these suggestions are looked at more closely, however, it is clear that they simply don’t make sense.

Allowing fleeing drivers to get away freely will actually put more innocent New Zealanders at risk on our roads.

Firstly, you just have to look at the stats in New Zealand to see that abandoning pursuits simply does not add up. Since 2009, the number of fleeing incidents have doubled from around two thousand every year to over four thousand in 2018 – the largest number on record.

At the same time though, the proportion of pursuits that are abandoned by police has also more than doubled, from 25% in 2009 to around 60% in 2018. If just abandoning pursuits was the answer then we would have seen a downward trend instead of an exponential increase in numbers fleeing – abandoning pursuits simply encourages more drivers to flee.

This puts the general public at greater risk.

To see specifically why common examples of ‘no pursuit policies’ are unworkable in practice, let’s consider one of the more recent and high profile suggestions. The Children’s Commissioner has argued that young drivers that flee police should be exempt from being pursued. Both the Police and IPCA, however, have explained why this is just not feasible.

In their combined report on fleeing drivers they state: 

  1. “Although there is a public perception that young drivers prominently feature in fleeing driver events, the Review did not identify any specific issues with young people in pursuits."
  2. "Although there have been calls for Police to introduce a 'no pursuit' policy for young drivers, there would be significant impracticalities in doing so." 
  3. “Identifying a driver's age is often difficult (if not impossible) when the vehicle is travelling at significant speeds and/or at night. Furthermore, such a policy would not necessarily minimise the risks to young passengers in the vehicle if the driver is (or appears to be) older" 

This two-year review on fleeing drivers has come to a clear conclusion - that a ‘no pursuit of young drivers’ policy does not make sense.

It is ideological rhetoric not based on any sort of evidence.

If calls to abandon pursuits are to be taken seriously in future, those in favour need to actually explain how they are going to ensure that those who flee police are still brought to justice, and they need to propose suitably harsh penalties to deter people from fleeing in the first place. Until they do, a ‘no pursuit policy’ would just encourage more people to flee police, making our roads more dangerous and putting more lives at risk.

Darroch Ball is MP with New Zealand First.