Yet again, reckless police driving highlights the need for a review

Since 2007 there have been five accidents caused by police cars u-turning to chase motorists or to respond to calls.  Two of these have involved collisions with cars, which have resulted in damage but no injuries.  The other three have been collisions with motorcycles. 

In December 2007 two riders were seriously injured when a police car turned across their path near Nelson.  In the same month another rider was badly hurt when a police car u-turned near Maramarua.  And now, seemingly inevitably, a rider has been killed by a police car u-turning near the crest of a rise near Te Kauwhata.

The question has to be asked – what the hell is going on with police driver training, attitudes, and practice. 

After the sentencing of the officer responsible for injuring the riders in the Buller Gorge, the prosecuting investigating officer Detective Senior Sergeant Tony Bernards was quoted as saying the verdict was “satisfying“. He went on to say that :

“He believed the crash was an “aberration” and would not prompt regular officer training.

The police manual required officers to be prudent and competent drivers and not put other motorists at risk.

This was a very unusual event.”

One isolated accident might well constitute an ‘aberration’ an ‘unusual event’

Five such incidents indicates to me that there is a systemic problem, and now as well as people still recovering from serious injuries we have seen a death.

We need to see a comprehensive and independent review of this tragedy, we need to see a commitment from police to affect whatever changes are necessary to avoid a repeat, and we need t o see it all happen very openly and very quickly.  Nothing less will do. 

Today’s story from the Dominion Post:

18 Comments Posted

  1. Well, I could be driving 20mph on an old car, checking my side/rear view mirrors, keep to my lane, activating my signals when turning and all but even that couldnt save me from these kinds of accidents. More should be done on these officers training for the benefits of other road users. Priorities and exceptions should be set clearly before deciding on whether to ‘race’ and apprehend these baddies

  2. @greengeek: Was it my comments you were referring to? It looked like it was anyway.

    I really don’t have a view on whether “any driver who tried to outrun a cop” should get an automatic extra punishment as you suggest. (Don’t they anyway?)

    As I pointed out in my comments, the path to a solution to address the issue of risky (“reckless”) driving by UK Police would seem to have been well mapped out in the UK from the ’60s onwards. I do not know to what extent NZ Police driver skills training might be built on that foundation (i.e., the history and the lessons learned).

  3. Good points. I guess it would mean some pursuits would not go ahead, if no suitably qualified officer was in attendance, but the crims would still know that in general most chases would proceed and there was still a good chance they would get caught.

    I would like to see an instant 28 days in the slammer for any driver who tried to outrun a cop.

  4. If you look at it from the perspective of insurable risks, and address that as the causal problem, then something interesting happens. I would suggest that a brief study of the history of UK Police Driver Training Standards might save you 90% of the potential cost of the review that you speak of – save time too – and set you on a path to a tried-and-tested solution fairly quickly.

    From memory, it was during the ’60s in the UK that Police metropolitan districts were becoming increasingly concerned at the escalation in the number, severity and cost of road accidents involving Police vehicles. Insurance for Police vehicles was escalating as a result – becoming prohibitively costly, because Police drivers had become such a high risk group – a very high average number of accidents per 1,000 miles driven (I forget the actual number, but I do recall thinking that Police drivers must have become almost uninsurable risks).

    With the objective of significantly reducing these high insurance risks and premiums (costs), the Police implemented a Police Standard Driver Training programme (I think the London Met were first), which included rigorous driving training and testing/examination. I think there were 3 classes of certificate. Only drivers holding the Policing Driving Certificate Class 1 were deemed safe enough to drive the high speed motorway and road patrol cars. I think you had to have at least a Certificate Class 3 to drive a Panda (local) car. I’m not sure if that allowed you to even engage in hot pursuit though.

    Any Police Driving Certificate (Class 1, 2 or 3) was advanced – meaning that the holder’s driving skills were well above those which the average Joe would need to achieve to pass the common driving test.
    Furthermore, the Certificate holders were re-tested every few years (3 or 5, I think), and re-trained as necessary, to ensure that they maintained or improved their driving skills standard. The average Joe (people like me) would never have been likely to have to face a re-test until we hit maybe 70 years of age or so, by which time our skill standards would probably have progressively deteriorated over the years until we became high risks.

    This Police Standard Driver Training programme resulted in the insurance premiums on Police vehicles falling dramatically, below the point they had ever previously been, because the average number and severity of accidents per 1,000 miles driven by Police drivers went way down.

    The huge success of this programme led to the Minister of Transport (Ernest Marples, I think it was) sponsoring the creation of the IAM (Institute of Advanced Motorists), where the average Joe could take more driver skills training and then apply to take the IAM driving test. The test was about 1½ hours’ duration – all driving, and on different types of road (city, motorway, and ‘A’ and ‘B’ roads) – and the examiner was a Class 1 Police Driving Certificate holder. I took a course of training and then the test. Part of the test involved giving a 15-minute running commentary of what you were observing as you drove, and what you were doing. It showed your thinking processes and particularly your anticipation of driving risks/hazards and planning/strategies for dealing with them if they arose. I had practiced doing this during my training. The examiner gave you a 5-minute example of the sort of commentary he wanted, before you had to do the commentary. He was thus making commentary as you drove, but using his thinking, anticipation and training. I have to say that, up to that point I had arrogantly thought (I was about 21 years old) that I was a pretty damn good driver. However, the examiner’s commentary soon knocked my ego into a basket, because he was so far ahead of me in everything – he was even commenting on what I should be preparing to do before I had even thought of doing it! Feeling incredibly humbled, I did my commentary and wondered if I could ever hope to be as good as the examiner.

    I passed my test, got my IAM Certificate, and immediately told my insurers (AA) about it, who promptly dropped my insurance premium by 10%. (The AA regarded the IAM Certificate as proof that the holder was capable of driving so as to be a lower risk, you see.) This – the 10% annual discount – had been my original motivation, but the test actually triggered a keener interest in developing good driving skills. I know that I am capable of driving to an advanced standard, but that does not mean that I always do. Thus, every time I am at the wheel, I remind myself that I need to try harder if I hope to ever get even close to that examiner’s standard. That’s how good those Class 1 Certificate holders were.

    There is absolutely no reason why NZ Police couldn’t put in place a similar Police Standard Driver Training programme, with similar significant benefits to the Police and the general public. When you consider the huge number of kilometers that Police drivers must rack up, driving on public roads over the course of a year, then the driving public and our roads in general would necessarily be a lot safer as a result. These risky – even deadly – drivers will have become very low-risk. The majority of New Zealanders would probably agree that the Police have a duty of care to do something about the high risks of Police drivers and the threats/dangers they pose to the general public. Let’s see if they do something along these lines. If they do not, then there is arguably a care-less aspect about it, and it’s probably all down to politics and wanting to avoid the cost of the necessary Police Standard Driver Training programme – i.e., so what if a few lives are lost?

  5. Did the cop see the motorcyclist? Obviously not. He was out of range of sight.

    Would the motorcyclist have hit a truck that was stopped for some reason? Or an ambulance tending to an accident victim?

    Clearly the motorcyclist would have hit whatever was in his way because he was going too fast. Even his friends and family understand that.

    Imagine our society without police. We would all be cannon fodder for the Mongrel Mob.

    The cops are human and the investigations should continue, but don’t expect perfection from those who enforce the law.

  6. Mildly relevant to the case but it seem rather silly the the usual police statement ” We discontinued the chase [25 seconds before] the accident” as if it absolved them from any responsibility for the crash/death. The chased person would need much longer than [25 seconds] to appreciate they were no longer being chased and then to slow down.
    Trevor29 said what I immediately thought as I heard the news.

  7. If the ute was doing 154km, how fast was his mate on the bike doing?
    Was the bikie trying to catch the ute. I reckon he was. Must have been doing close to 200km. Maybe he was airborne over the brow of the hill and couldn’t slow down/stop.
    Stupid thing for experienced officer to do though.

  8. Seems to me there was terrible judgement by both parties in this latest case of road obstruction by a police car.

    Is it not symbolic of the wider rot in national driving standards? This in turn is symbolic of a rotten national obsession with cars and roads, which was always going end ugly.

  9. The reported crashes are just the tip of the iceberg! There have been so many near crashes from both cars and bikes, that are unreported, to make the whole police chase question very serious. If you or I drove like the police and chucked U turns without regard to any other road user, we would be, justifiably, crucified! I know several people who have had to take serious avoiding action to avoid hitting these cowboys, as they abruptly change direction in the middle of traffic, to race off after someone, allegedly exceeding the speed limit! If they insist on prosecuting to the letter of the law, they certainly need to up their standards!

  10. I once spent a year of my life handling traffic prosecution paperwork, back when the MOT prosecuted Police officers who caused accidents.

    Trust me, this is a case of systemic attitude from sworn officers, and cases like this will continue as Police do not get prosecuted by their own system for the ‘collateral damage’ that occurs.
    Especially when the National Manager of Police Prosecutions gets away with driving drunk and merely gets a re-assignment to another part of PNHQ, keeping his six-figure salary and his licence.
    [Dompost, Thursday April 15, 2010 – Superintendant Graham Thomas]

  11. The cop made a boo boo but I was still astonished that the speeder actually went on tele tonight. If he wasn’t speeding his mate would still be alive, if I was in his shoes I would be laying low, not jumping in front of a blinkin tv camera.

  12. One of the more hilarious videos I have seen was on television a number of years back. It was footage from a camera looking down a motorway at approaching vehicles. It had been raining but the sun was out and visibility was good. A driver lost control and crashed going under the camera. Over the next 45 minutes or so, a series of cars failed to stop and ploughed into the mess. Drivers would get out of their cars and inspect the damage and then would have to jump clear as another car piled into the mess. Many of these drivers were driving in a way that indicated that there was no possibility in their mind that the road would not be clear.

    It probably wasn’t so hilarious for those caught up in the mess though.


  13. I have to agree with Trevor – you should be able to stop at least within the visible distance. What happens if it is a log on the road or a pot-hole or a bike that has just crashed?

    This lesson was demonstrated to me when I witnessed 5 cars barrel over a hill one after the other at well over 100 km/hr and crash into each other. Fortunately, on one was badly hurt that time, thou lots of crumpled tin!

  14. the Smelbourne cops had to lose the aggressive chase bizzo – too much collatteral damage – have to have all their guns confiscated every two years for about the same reason.
    Admiration and respect – yep, and they are mostly just kids too.

  15. Trevor would you make a three point turn there? I sure as heck wouldn’t. It’s got to be ‘careless driving causing death’ or, at least, it would be if you or I did it.
    Again, it’s not the road code that requires all drivers including motor cyclists to travel at a speed such that they can stop in the clear road that they can see, it’s the laws of physics. I still blame the cop for being an idiot.

  16. The road code requires all drivers including motor cyclists to travel at a speed such that they can stop in the clear road that they can see – half this distance if the road is two-way without a centre line. This includes reaction time. If the police car had its flashing lights on (which I presume would have been in the case), why couldn’t the motor cyclist stop?

    Unfortunately there is a tendency to assume that the road will always be clear other than for slower vehicles – this assumption can be deadly.


  17. Registration fees have been increased for motorcyclists because they tend to be more vulnerable in the event of an accident. How much responsibility should the the drivers of cars and trucks have? Or is it a lesson to those that use more environmentally friendly transport that cars rule, so you pay for the consequences of accidents!

    Here is an opportunity for the police to take stock and develop some positive initiatives. I know this is slightly of topic but the two issues are related, thoughtless actions make a particular group of road users at greater risk than others.

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