Understanding the fleeing driver; Police analysis reveal those most likely behind the wheel

Most drivers who flee police have extensive criminal histories and the majority of them are unlicensed, a police investigation into fleeing driver behaviour has found.

The investigation, carried out by the Evidence-Based Policing Centre, has resulted in six separate reports covering the background of the drivers but also ways to mitigate offending and what other crimes are committed at the same time.

They form part of the recommendations from the fleeing driver review Fleeing drivers in New Zealand – a collaborative review of events, practices and procedures, in which thecentre was commissioned to do research into the motivations of fleeing drivers.

It found fleeing driver incidents have increased but that was not only due to an increase of it happening but also because of better recording.

Police late last year said they would now only chase fleeing drivers if there was a threat before the start of the pursuit and if there was a need for the driver to be apprehended immediately.

Figures show there were more than 30,000 police pursuits initiated between 2008 and 2019, resulting in hundreds of crashes and the deaths of 79 people.

In the latest reports, it found the most common offences to be charged after a fleeing driver incident included dangerous driving, licence breaches, impaired driving and stolen vehicles.

They also found that those fleeing were trying to avoid punishment for outstanding offending.

The type of offending did vary markedly by age and ethnicity, with Māori, Pasifika and younger people, more likely to be in stolen vehicles, while older offenders were more likely to be trying to hide contraband including drugs.

The age group which had increased the most in fleeing incidents were those aged 25 to 34 years old, while other age groups had remained constant or decreased.

“Young drivers across all datasets were more likely to be in a stolen vehicle,” the report stated.

Those charged after a single fleeing incident were often disqualified, 20.88 per cent, followed by alcohol-impaired at 21.39 per cent, being unlicensed, 13.94 per cent, and followed for suspicious vehicle or behaviour at 10.73 per cent.

“Generally, recidivist offenders were younger and more likely to be in stolen vehicles.”

“Joyriding” was found in a small group of offenders, 14.64 per cent, followed by unlicensed or stolen vehicles at 7.90 per cent.

“The types of co-occurring offending most at the time of a fleeing driver event are often antisocial, with unlawful taking of vehicles and other driving offences common.

“When the offender history is examined, there is more variation in the types of offending seen from fleeing drivers.

“There are still high numbers of licence breaches, but the overall offending profile is more serious than that seen in the fleeing driver event,” the report wrote.

Another report, Improving the use of post-event interviews, found there was no formal process or template in police for carrying out interviews of fleeing drivers.

However, the writer also noted there was little literature around best practice for those interviews.

A report named Individual Factors saw researchers interview 40 individuals who had been involved in a police pursuit, either as a driver or a passenger.

About half were aged under 20 and predominately male – 70 per cent.

Pākehā were most common at 48 per cent, while 40 per cent identified as Māori and the remainder, 13 per cent, Pasifika.

“Very few” of them mentioned having any specific mental health issues as a contributing factor, however a number of participants mentioned general life stressors that were pervasive in their childhood or current life.

Those negative life experiences meant they struggled to readjust or cope and led to a general disregard for their own wellbeing.

That then “contributed to a general sense of apathy for their own safety and the consequences of being in a police pursuit”.

Another of the six reports, dubbed Interventions, focused on identifying interventions to reduce the behaviour. It found that the Eagle helicopter was a deterrent.

However, it also found that a change of tact by helping the driver with their licensing or drug and alcohol issues to develop more positive relationships with police and potential offenders another key way of reducing offending.

“Any interventions where individuals feel they receive procedural justice and/or are helped by police could therefore reasonably be expected to increase compliance with police requests and reduce failing-to-stop events.”

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