Fleeing driver report: 'No easy answer' to stopping deaths, police staff say

Another review into how police conduct pursuits "offers no solutions" on how to fix the growing problem, says the NZ Police Association (NZPA).

The latest, Fleeing Drivers in New Zealand, was released on Friday. It's the sixth into pursuits conducted since 2003, but the first to be a joint effort between the police and watchdog the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA).

Since 2003, the number of pursuits police initiate each year has almost doubled - most of that increase coming since 2014.

The review found some police officers "consider it necessary to continue to pursue until the event is resolved", rather than abandon the chase when the risk to the public and the drivers gets too high.

"Police stop about 2.5 million vehicles a year - that's an average of nearly 7000 a day, and those who refuse to stop account for 0.15 percent of those drivers," said NZPA president Chris Cahill.

"Yet that small percentage can be the cause of terrible consequences for themselves, passengers, families, innocent members of the public and the police officers who have to cope with the aftermath."

Between 2011 and 2017 the number of pursuits leapt 63 percent, despite the number of Kiwis on the road increasing only 11.2 percent.

Statistics from the Fleeing Drivers in New Zealand report.
Statistics from the Fleeing Drivers in New Zealand report. Photo credit: Police/IPCA

Police are also far more likely to abandon a pursuit now - about 55 percent - than in 2007, less than a quarter were called off. But that hasn't stopped the deaths. Out of 2017's 3796 police chases - the most on record - 626 ended in a crash, with 12 fatalities.  Nearly one in three crashes happened after police had abandoned the pursuit.

The latest report looked at 191 randomly chosen chases from 2017, and all 77 that ended up being referred to the IPCA that same year.

It found: 

  • almost all drivers were male (95 percent in the random sample, 97 percent in IPCA cases)
  • nearly two-thirds were Māori
  • the median age was mid-20s, between 31 and 40 percent had previously failed to stop when asked
  • just over half had been jailed before
  • two-thirds either didn't have a current driving licence or had been suspended.

In the random sample half the drivers had a history of serious criminal offending (averaging 16 criminal convictions each), while two-thirds of offenders in the IPCA cases did (with an average 27 criminal convictions). Only 13 percent in total had no history of offending.

Around a third of fleeing drivers were initially asked to stop for driving not even bad enough to warrant being arrested for, the review found. Only between 20 and 25 percent involved vehicles known to have been stolen.

"The cases... reveal drivers who flee from police are not all juveniles in stolen cars," said Cahill.

Statistics from the Fleeing Drivers in New Zealand report.
Statistics from the Fleeing Drivers in New Zealand report. Photo credit: IPCA/Police

In the random sample one in five fleeing drivers managed to get away, while of the cases looked at by the IPCA, it was only one in 25 - perhaps because cases referred to the IPCA are more likely to have ended in a crash.


The review made eight "high-level" recommendations on how police could reduce the risk, without letting suspects get away.

Police will: 

  • review the Police Professional Driver Programme "to ensure it is fit for purpose for enabling staff to effectively manage fleeing driver events"
  • "enhance the quality and quantity of training to improve staff management of fleeing driver events
  • "ensure the [fleeing driver] policy is fit for purpose in light of the review's findings"
  • "investigate introduction of limited non-compliant vehicle stops improve reviews and oversight of fleeing driver events"
  • "strengthen oversight of fleeing driver events" and " improve post-event accountability processes"
  • review the Eagle helicopter's role in assisting in chases
  • "identify and explore opportunities to use technology to enhance the management of fleeing driver events"
  • commission further research on fleeing drivers to better understand their motives, with a focus on youth and alcohol/drug-impaired drivers.

"The review has shown that our staff generally manage fleeing driver events well, affirming the principles underpinning our fleeing driver policy," said Police Commissioner Mike Bush.

"However, there are clear areas we can, and need to improve."

Bush said if everyone pulled over when asked to by police, "we would not be here today".

"Unfortunately, people are still making the choice to flee from police. So we want to ensure our police response to drivers who choose to flee is as safe as possible."

Mike Bush.
Mike Bush. Photo credit: Newshub.

Cahill said it is "imperative that the recommendations in this review translate into tangible improvements for officers".

"New Zealanders can now see that there is no easy answer to the conundrum that fleeing drivers pose for police and the public. The association recognises this reality and has told the IPCA and police that it is willing to work with them on any reasonable and positive changes that may be needed to improve the fleeing driver policy."

IPCA chair Judge Colin Doherty said the review made it clear "the training police currently receive does not adequately prepare them for these complex and dynamic events".

"However, the existing restrictive policy can provide the necessary balance between public safety and public protection in pursuits, if police officers understand it and apply it properly."

The IPCA says it will monitor police's implementation of the recommendations, the results of which will be published annually in its reports to Parliament.

Judith Collins, former Police Minister.
Judith Collins, former Police Minister. Photo credit: The AM Show

Political reaction

Police Minister Stuart Nash said the report showed there was no need for "wholesale changes" to police pursuit policy.

"Nevertheless there are opportunities for improvement... I support the decision to take a fresh look at training and to improve de-briefs for officers to help them better understand and manage risk."

National MP and former Police Minister Judith Collins told The AM Show on Friday, ahead of the report's release, police had little option but to chase down fleeing drivers.

"I know police hate doing these chases... but having said that, what are you going to do? Take that tool away and give over the roads to criminals? Come on."

She said drivers are often "methamphetamine-fuelled people who can be very, very dangerous", and police "absolutely" had the right to try and catch them.

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

The review said of the 191 cases looked at, 14 resulted in drug charges being laid. About 38 percent of drivers had previous drug convictions - fewer in the random sample.