Darroch Ball: Fleeing driver epidemic at crisis point

Opinion 04/07/2019

By Darroch Ball, Law and Order Spokesperson, New Zealand First.

The number of fleeing driver pursuits has almost doubled, from 2300 in 2009 to 4100 last year. Whatever we are doing, it’s not working.

They will continue to increase exponentially if we don’t make changes in the way offenders are being held to account.

Police started keeping records of fleeing driver incidents a decade ago, and the recently published quarterly statistics make for damning reading.

January saw the highest number of fleeing driver incidents ever recorded in a calendar month.

The first quarter of the year also saw the highest number of incidents ever recorded. If this trend continues, we are on track for the worst year on record.

The figures also show fleeing drivers have cottoned on to the fact that the more dangerously they drive the more chance they have of getting away.

Ten years ago there were 650 pursuits abandoned by police compared with 2500 last year - an increase from 30 percent to 60 percent of all pursuits being abandoned.

That means a fleeing driver now has close to a two-to-one chance of getting away if they drive dangerously. So the question really is ‘why wouldn’t they’?

More than half of all fleeing driver incidents and related crashes ever recorded have occurred within the past four years. What is even more concerning is that close to 60 percent of all abandonments have also occurred within the past four years.

What is patently clear is that the more the police abandon the pursuits, the more drivers flee and drive dangerously.

People are blaming the police, which has created the current ‘abandonment culture’. It seems the bigger the problem gets, the further away we get from the real cause of the fleeing driver epidemic.

Any sense of holding fleeing drivers to account has taken a back seat in favour of the meaningless ideological chorus continually crying out for police to not pursue criminals at all.

We need to ensure that there are sufficient deterrents for these criminals when they are caught including mandatory community service and jail time.

The current “loss of licence” penalty is borderline farcical.

The type of people who flee from police wouldn’t care if they had a licence or not, and quite possibly wouldn’t have one to begin with.

The majority of these drivers are not the ‘young teenage kid’ making a mistake in the heat of the moment. The combined IPCA and Police report into fleeing drivers released in March showed the average age of a fleeing driver was in the mid to late twenties.

It also showed that the number of recidivist offenders was increasing.

The majority of these having had previous issues with domestic violence or other criminal links.

The seriousness of this issue cannot be understated.

If we continue on with the ‘abandonment culture’ coupled with a wet-bus-ticket of a penalty, we will soon find ourselves at a point where tragedies will occur on our streets on a daily basis.

We need to change our approach and start holding these offenders to account. We need to stop focussing on the police being the problem and instead ensure we focus on the people who could stop this crisis overnight – the drivers.

We need to ensure we have a strong enough law to back up our police officers and ensure we have policies in place that stop allowing idiot drivers to get away.

Darroch Ball is the Law and Order Spokesperson for New Zealand First.