Threshold for police to pursue fleeing drivers cleared up

The threshold for police officers making the decision to pursue a fleeing driver has been cleared up with a change in policy wording.

Now frontline officers are being instructed not to pursue unless the threat outweighs the risk of harm created by the chase.

A mangled Subaru on the back of a tow truck, a car resting on the footpath crushed like a can, a police cordon with tarp covering a body: these police pursuits over just the past two years have all ended fatally for drivers or the public and they're not the only ones.

But now Police has changed the rules of engagement. 

"So if the driver is already known to our police officers then we would expect that they potentially wouldn't pursue," says road manager assistant commissioner Sandra Venables.

A review last year into handling fleeing drivers established eight recommendations that police are adopting. That includes revising guidelines to say: a pursuit is only justified when the threat posed and the necessity to immediately apprehend outweighs the risk of harm created by the pursuit, and to stop unnecessary death and injury of offenders.

But also innocent road users and pedestrians.

"Between 2008 and 2019, there were 79 deaths on our road because some drivers chose not to stop and they fled us," says Venables.

The Police Association believes the change is a step in the right direction, helping officers make the right decision to pursue or not in a matter of seconds.

"Someone in a stolen car is no longer serious enough if they fail to stop, if someone was involved in an armed robbery that would be seriousness," says Police Association president Chris Cahill.

But Cahill says more can be done to put the onus on a driver not to speed off in the first place.

"Having a penalty that's more substantive than the offence they're actually committing originally might give the incentive to stop."

The Police Association says it's an incentive which might just save lives too.