Thousands Of Innocent Bystanders Die In Police Chases

While it may be hard to believe, there is one death a day in our country from high speed police chases. Many times the vehicles travel at more than 100 miles per hour. According to USA Today, more than 5000 bystanders and passengers have been killed in police car chases since 1979, and tens of thousands more were injured as officers repeatedly pursued drivers at high speeds and in hazardous conditions. The majority of the offenses for which the high speed chase are undertaken are very minor in nature. Most bystanders were killed in their own cars by a fleeing driver.

On many occasions, it is the police vehicle which collides with an innocent vehicle making these chases dangerous for police as well. According to USA Today, at least a 139 police officers have been killed by chases. According to Tulsa Police Major Travis Yates, “a pursuit is probably the most unique and dangerous job law enforcement can do.” Despite these upsetting statistics, somehow chases have escaped national attention which has been paid to other potentially lethal police tactics.


According to records of the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “NHTSA” which analyzes all fatal motor vehicle crashes, the number of chase related deaths in 2013 was higher than the number in 1990 – 322 compared to 317. “It is an embarrassment,” said Geoffrey Alpert of the University of South Carolina, a leading researcher on police pursuit, who has done numerous justice department studies. NHTSA records “are the only national database we have on these fatalities, and it has been consistently wrong”. Injuries are even harder to count because NHTSA keeps records of only fatal crashes.

In California, of the chases from 2012 – 2014, 89% were vehicle-code violations including, speeding, vehicle theft, reckless driving, and 4,898 instances of a missing license tag or expired registration. Just 5% were an attempt to nab someone suspected of a violent crime usually assault or robbery. In California, 28% of all chases result in crashes.

Unfortunately, during a chase, police can be overcome by “a need to win and make the arrest” which blinds them to the danger they are helping to create.  Motorcycle pursuits are also particularly dangerous said Alpert, the South Carolina researcher. “Motorcycle drivers are either going to get away or they are going to get killed.”

Police Officer’s receive limited ‘pursuit’ training. The average police trainee receives 72 hours of weapons training compared to 40 hours of driving training. Only a portion of which covers chases, which according to 2006 Justice study of police training academies. “We are not taking it seriously enough because we think that one day of training that an officer may have gotten in their academy is going to take effect 10 years later when a pursuit begins”, says Major Travis Yates, the Tulsa expert on police chases. “Most officer’s will never fire their firearms, but we train them 1-4 times a year” on using guns.

Many police departments are changing their policies placing limits on chases. In Florida, the Highway Patrol has changed its policy that allowed officer’s to chase anyone to a policy that allows pursuits only if suspected felons, drunk drivers, and reckless drivers. The number of highway pursuits fell almost in half in 2014.  In Milwaukee, police have restricted chases to suspected to violent felons and people who represent “a clear and imminent threat to the safety of others.

While police pursuits continue to be controversial and dangerous to the public, progress is being made with stricter policies in force by police departments and greater education and training of officers.  Accountability of officers who make poor decisions is likewise important.

To Get More Information about Filing a Police Chase Lawsuit

If you have information that you believe could lead to a successful suit resulting from a police chase, you should speak to an experienced police chase attorney. The Law Offices of Patrick E. Knie can help those who believe that they have been damaged from a police chase. Call us at 864-582-5118 to schedule an appointment to talk about your case. We represent clients throughout South Carolina, with offices located in Spartanburg and Greenville.

Additional Resources:

High-speed police chases have killed thousands of innocent bystanders, USA Today, July 30, 2015


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