Police drivers take 'unnecessary risks' during car chases

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Police forces in England and Wales are to review the rules for police drivers involved in high-speed car chases after a damning report found too many officers were taking "unnecessary risks".

The report, by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), warned that the total number of collisions involving police vehicles is increasing, with 109 in 2005 compared with 101 in 2004. Each year, 40 people are killed in England and Wales in such incidents. The majority of deaths are linked to police pursuits, with 32 people killed in 2005, compared with 29 in the previous two years.

The report said: "There is evidence from our study of unnecessary risk-taking where there may have been alternative resolutions. Examples for this include inappropriate police vehicles conducting the pursuit, and pursuits of disqualified drivers who might be arrested at a later date." It added: "Some officers may be reluctant to acknowledge that they are in pursuit, perhaps in some incidences to avoid all of the relevant procedures that they should be following."

The watchdog said there were also some specific examples where officers were seeking to avoid the formal procedures, "as they stated to the control room that they 'were not in pursuit' when they clearly were." It went on: "There was evidence of police drivers not considering the risk."

The report also recommended that guidelines should be drawn up on how to respond if a target vehicle uses the wrong carriageway of a motorway.

This week, five people were killed in a head-on crash on the eastbound carriageway of the M4 in Newport, South Wales. One car, carrying four men, was driven on to the motorway in the wrong direction after a police patrol tried to stop it. The police did not pursue the vehicle on to the motorway.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said yesterday that it is reviewing its existing guidelines, which are currently only advisory. The IPCC report said guidelines from three years ago are "strong and sensible," but are not being followed across the board.

Nick Hardwick, the chairman of the IPCC, said: "Many of the police pursuits we deal with are of short duration and involve split-second decisions by officers. This emphasises the need for strong and clear regulation of this area."