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Runaways raise concerns

Police officers outside a Johnstone St property in Masterton where a teenager crashed after a pursuit last year. PHOTO/FILE

Ditched pursuits rising
In the first of a five-part series on Wairarapa’s road to zero fatal crashes, GIANINA SCHWANECKE takes a look at the dangers of fleeing drivers in Wairarapa.

It’s better to pull over and face the music rather than risk causing a serious crash when fleeing police, a road safety advocate says.

“[Fleeing drivers] are some of the most dangerous driving scenarios there are”, Wairarapa Road Safety Council manager Bruce Pauling said.

And these types of incidents are on the up.

In the past two years there have been 103 police pursuits in Wairarapa resulting in 15 crashes, recent police data shows.

From July 2019 to June 2020 there were 40 incidents of police pursuing fleeing drivers, a 57.5 per cent increase compared with the same period from July 2018 to June 2019.

Police pursuits also increased notably during the lockdown period, with 18 incidents from March to June this year, compared with just nine over the same period last year.

Pauling said this type of driving was of particular concern as the consequences could be severe.

“[It is better to pull over safely] than to flee police at high speed when hyped up and full of adrenaline, and then crashing into an innocent party killing or injuring them.”

However, the number of crashes related to police pursuits had decreased by 12.5 per cent likely in response to police more frequently abandoning pursuits when the driving was deemed too dangerous.

Of 63 fleeing driver incidents from July 2019 to June 2020, 40 [63 per cent] were abandoned, compared with 60 per cent the year before.

However, there has been a noticeable decrease of abandoned pursuits compared with the past decade [72 per cent abandoned].

The reasons for being pulled over were not always “the end of the world”, Pauling said.

“Any penalty they may face when they are pulled over cannot be worse than facing a manslaughter charge and imprisonment after causing the death of someone through dangerous driving when fleeing police.

“If they then face consequences for whatever the issue is, whether impairment, breaching licence conditions, or perhaps being wanted by the law, so be it.”

He said it was always better to pull over and stop when safe to do so when signalled by police.

The last Wairarapa police pursuit which ended in a fatal crash was in January 2016, where two teenage boys died when the 14-year-old fleeing driver crashed on Queen St in Masterton.

An Independent Police Conduct Authority review later declared the pursuit justified and the officers right to abandon it when the risk increased.

Tomorrow: The dangers of mobile phone use while driving.

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