A WATCHDOG has backed proposed changes to the law on police pursuits which would give the higher training level and skill of police drivers legal recognition.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said police drivers should be able to pursue suspects or respond to emergencies “without fear of prosecution or disciplinary action” and should be held to a higher driving standard than a ‘careful and competent motorist’ — the current standard in law.
The watchdog said the current standard did not take into account the expert training and experience of police drivers and it agreed with a proposal that police officers involved in pursuits should be held to the standard of a ‘careful and competent police driver’.
The IOPC said changing the law would allow investigators and the Crown Prosecution Service to take into account a police officer’s higher level of training and skill.
Ian Todd, IOPC deputy director general, said: “Police drivers need to pursue suspects and respond quickly to emergency calls as part of their duty — and that’s what the public want them to do.
“So it’s right that their training and skills are properly recognised in law.
“Deaths and injuries involving police drivers are thankfully rare.
“However, pursuing suspects and responding to emergencies carries risks not only for the police and the driver of any pursued vehicle, but for passengers, bystanders and other road users.
“Our experience investigating fatal road incidents has given us considerable insight into the traumatic impact these have on injured parties, their families and the police officers involved.
“While we broadly welcome the proposals, any change to legislation must not have unintended consequences for public safety, nor must it undermine the ability to hold the police to account for their decision-making and risk-assessment during pursuits or when driving at speed.”
As a result of 97 independent investigations into police pursuits between April 1, 2012, and September 30, 2017, two officers were prosecuted and none were convicted.
Over the same period, five officers were prosecuted following investigations into emergency response driving, resulting in four convictions.
Last Saturday (18), a 26-year-old biker was seriously injured following a police pursuit in Kimberworth between Town Lane and Wingfield Road. South Yorkshire Police has referred itself to the IOPC and launched its own investigation into the incident.