Should the police keep chasing young drivers?

The AM Show 04/04/2019

Government partner New Zealand First is opposed to police letting young drivers get away, rather than chase them down.

More than 980 young drivers have been pursued in the last two years, documents released to RNZ show, with four of them killed.

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft says he'll be pushing police to adopt a 12-month trial where they don't chase youth, who have a "propensity to take foolhardy, stupid risks".

As a judge I used to think nothing was more important than upholding the law, holding young people to account, giving a clear message as to consequences. But I've seen too many young people die needlessly recently.

But NZ First law and order spokesperson Darroch Ball says letting young drivers get away sets an irresponsible precedent.

"I think that it's based on rhetoric, and what it will do is give young drivers who decide to flee a free licence," he told Newshub.

Ball said, in the heat of the moment, there would often be no way to tell how old a driver is.

"Whose responsibility would it be if the young person was pursued and found to be a young driver, and someone was killed?"

Becroft said drivers allowed to get away will still be caught, using a combination of technology, helicopters, cameras and intelligence.

"They will be held to account, but they'll be alive to do so - not dead. That's the critical point."

He added that some drivers will need to be stopped, no matter how old they are.

We only chase if there are really exceptional life-and-death reasons to do so. Otherwise, we can catch them later.

About a decade ago, Queensland adopted a no-pursuit policy unless there was an imminent risk to life or someone had been murdered. Since then, no one has died in chases. In 2016, there were reportedly only 126 pursuits, compared to several thousand in New Zealand, which has an almost identical population. Between 2015 and 2018, nine youngsters were killed in chases in New Zealand.

"I'd like the whole policy to change tomorrow," said Becroft. "I think we've got it wrong. In Australia, Queensland and Tasmania, they reformulated their policies, they made it a high bar before chases were embarked. Injuries, crashes and deaths came down. I hope it could start straight away."

A report published just hours before the Christchurch terror attacks last month found police are more likely to abandon a dangerous pursuit than a decade ago, but around one-in-six chases still ends in a crash.

Police blamed the ongoing carnage on a lack of training, rather than the pursuit policy itself, but says they're open to change.

Like NZ First, National also opposes letting youth get away.

What are you going to do? Take that tool away and give over the roads to criminals? Come on

"We back the police on the front line, and we expect them to be able to do their job."

The AM Show / Newshub reporters Dan Satherley & Ella Prendergast