By Jean Reynolds

High-speed police pursuits put you, the suspect, and the general public at risk. Vehicle-related incidents are the most common cause of officer deaths and career-ending injuries. Be sure to consider your agency’s policies and the safety procedures you’ve been taught. Avoid pursuing suspects for low-level offenses. Always consider both the risks and the benefits of the chase before you take off after a suspect, and be sure to wear your seat belt every time you enter a vehicle.

Action movies often feature high-speed police pursuits along superhighways. Although Hollywood movies tend to glamorize these car chases, the truth is that they can be deadly. It’s important to know the facts about high-speed police pursuits—and to have some thinking tools at your disposal when you find yourself in a situation that might involve a pursuit.

An article in the March 2010 FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin features some alarming statistics about police officers, vehicles, and pursuits:

  • Every day someone dies as a result of a police pursuit
  • One out of every 100 high-speed police pursuits results in a fatality
  • Police officers are more likely to die from incidents involving vehicles than guns
  • Forty-two percent of deaths related to police pursuits are innocent third parties
  • Injuries related to high-speed police pursuits can trigger lawsuits and disciplinary procedures
  • High-speed police pursuits (not guns) are the leading cause of officer deaths and career-ending injuries
  • Most high-speed police pursuits are responses to traffic violations and equipment problems, such as tinted windows and broken windshields.

Criminal justice experts say that it’s important to weigh risks against benefits when you’re considering a high-speed police pursuit. A jury may not be sympathetic when it learns that an innocent bystander was killed because a driver had committed a minor offense.

It’s natural for an officer with a strong commitment to law and order to want to chase a driver who speeds away from a traffic stop. But police officers have to maintain control of their impulses and use common sense when dealing with lawbreakers.

Here are some factors to consider before instituting a high-speed police pursuit:

  • the nature of the offense you’re dealing with
  • your agency’s policies
  • the potential for violence if you don’t initiate a pursuit
  • possible alternatives for dealing with the situation (can the offender be apprehended at home later on?)

You also need to consider factors related to driving and vehicles. Driving a car at top speed can give you an adrenaline rush and an exhilarating feeling of power. But cars have limitations. You have very little control over the braking distance of your car—and you also have to factor in your reaction time and the speed of your car. No car—no matter how wonderful it is—can “stop on a dime.”

If you do decide that a pursuit is necessary, be sure to follow the defensive driving strategies that you’ve been taught. And always, always buckle your seat belt.

Police work is inherently unpredictable and potentially dangerous. You have a duty to yourself, your loved ones, your agency, and the general public to make safety your top priority.

Schultz, David P., Ed Hudak, and Geoffrey P. Alpert, Ph.D. “Evidence-Based Decisions on Police Pursuits.” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. Federal Burean of Investigation, Mar. 2010. Web. 7 Oct. 2015.