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Risk Management

Insights from Losses: Mitigating Collisions from Police Pursuits

Police pursuits are commonly used to apprehend suspects, but bystanders may be unintentionally harmed in the process. In our Insights from Losses series, we reflect on potential consequences and alternative strategies.

July 1, 2024

Vehicle pursuits are inherently risky. Ironically, peace officers involved in vehicle pursuits face a public safety dilemma: apprehend the dangerous subject now or temporarily let them go. Officers are consistently challenged to determine how to best protect the general public.

“All too often, these high-pressure pursuit decisions have tragic consequences, resulting in life-altering injuries or fatalities,” said Ariel Jenkins, Assistant Vice President – Risk Control at Safety National. “Law enforcement agencies might consider adopting policies that reinforce minimal use of police pursuits. Existing technologies like drones or GPS tags can help reduce risks and potentially enhance effectiveness.”

Here, we review the outcomes of recent accidents involving police pursuits and the resulting case results.

Police Pursuit Collisions

In one instance, peace officers spotted a vehicle that had been carjacked by gunpoint earlier that day. After attempting to pull over the vehicle, it fled. Police pursued the vehicle for 10 to 15 minutes at speeds up to 85 miles per hour (mph), running 10 to 15 red lights and numerous stop signs. The suspect ran a red light and T-Boned a vehicle driven by a bystander, who was pronounced dead at the scene.

In another instance, a police department was alerted of a shoplifter who jumped into a vehicle with another driver. After the first responding department pursued the suspect for several minutes, officers from a different police department joined the pursuit. The officer from the police department that joined the pursuit reached speeds of 115 mph. After the officer realized that the suspects were not wanted on a felony or violent crime, the pursuit was suspended. However, before the pursuit was terminated, the suspect vehicle struck a third party head-on, causing the bystander victim to suffer severe injuries.

Resulting Settlements and Human Costs

Both cases resulted in multimillion-dollar settlements. Not to mention the life-altering and permanent human costs of suffering and loss. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), fatal crashes involving police pursuits kill more than one person every day. In 2021, 525 people were killed, and in 2020, 545 were killed. According to Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics (LEMAS) data from 2009 to 2013, 21% of those seriously injured in police pursuits are not involved in the pursuit.

Adjusting Policies to Reduce Accidents

As vehicle pursuits continue to be very risky, law enforcement agencies should assess and ask themselves the following questions on an ongoing basis:

1. Do our pursuit policies give our law enforcement officers too much discretion?

Depending on the local community and jurisdiction, law enforcement agency policies can range from discretionary to prohibitive. The more densely populated the locality, the more prohibitive and restrictive vehicular pursuit policies should be, except in demanding circumstances. Agencies that have traditionally given their officers unbridled discretion may want to reconsider and make vehicular pursuits more prohibitive and restrictive. Supervisors can determine if a pursuit is necessary and when it should be terminated. Additional discretion is vital as local communities grow in population and public sentiment increasingly views vehicular police pursuits as an unnecessary risk. In some cases, this sentiment has extended into the outcomes of related litigation.

2. Is it time to revise our pursuit policies?

If your pursuit policies have not been updated in several years, it may be time to review them to ensure they are consistent with the relevant federal, state, and local laws and regulations. You may also consult your local Peace Officers Standard and Training (POST) or state agency for additional guidelines.

3. At what point is it best to terminate a vehicle pursuit?

Based on department policy, further guidance may be needed on how to balance overall public safety with the immediate need to apprehend the fleeing subject. Details such as identifying key factors may need to be added to determine if the risk to the public or officers outweighs the need to immediately apprehend the subject and whether generally terminating the pursuit is advised, except in exigent circumstances.

4. What are viable alternatives to an immediate apprehension of a dangerous driver being pursued?

The reality is that during vehicular pursuits, the officer may have a license plate number, but this likely will not identify the driver of the fleeing vehicle. However, technological advances are helping peace officers track down fleeing subjects using GPS tags and deploying drones or light aircraft. A viable alternative to light aircraft may be the use of drones. Drones can enhance the effectiveness of pursuits, while potentially reducing the risks to bystanders and law enforcement personnel. Agencies considering these technologies should weigh the pros, cons, and cost-benefits, including non-financial reasons.

The above questions and tips are not an exhaustive list regarding auto accident prevention and risk mitigation. You may need to contact a professional for comprehensive guidance.


The content contained in this publication is intended to be educational in nature and provided solely for informational purposes. This publication does not identify all possible hazards, and we are not responsible for any damages in connection with the use of any information provided on this page or your obligations under any law, rule, or regulation. Any opinions or information should only be considered as a resource to be used together with your professional insurance advisors in maintaining a loss prevention and claims management program and should not be construed or relied upon as specific legal, financial, or insurance advice.