Across the spectrum of operational policing activities, one situation that poses a degree of risk to community safety is when an alleged offender chooses to flee in a vehicle. In the worst case, the offender, police members or other bystanders may be injured or killed. Every motor vehicle pursuit that ends in a death is a tragedy and one that impacts not only on the families and friends of the deceased, but also on the police members involved in the incident.
In this analysis of data from the Australian Institute of Criminology’s National Deaths in Custody Program, the National Coronial Information System and from police agencies across Australia, it was found that although fluctuating, the number of pursuit-related crashes and fatalities has generally declined over the last 12 years with an average of 15 crashes and 18 deaths each year. Further, the rate of death has also remained relatively stable since 2004, with the exception of two small increases in the rate in 2006 and 2009. It was also found that fatal pursuits most commonly involved young males under the age of 25 years and that in almost nine out of every 10 cases, the alleged offender driving the vehicle being pursued had consumed alcohol, drugs or a combination of both prior to the incident. The authors conclude by identifying several areas in need of further research that would improve understanding of motor vehicle pursuits and provide policymakers with a stronger evidence base for reform.