Booze, drugs factor 'in most fatal pursuits'

DRIVERS who die in police pursuits are almost always under the influence of drugs or alcohol, an analysis of Australian crash data has found, again raising questions about whether Victorian police should engage in such chases.

Autopsies show that 88 per cent of drivers had taken drugs, alcohol or both before dying in a police pursuit, according to the Australian Institute of Criminology preliminary data.

The data from 2000 to 2011 was presented at a conference in Melbourne this week.

The institute found that the average speed of fatal pursuits was 129km/h, with the highest speed reached in a pursuit that ended in a fatality 210km/h.

Fatal pursuits are mostly started because of traffic-related offences (38 per cent) or car theft (32 per cent). There were 219 pursuit-related deaths recorded, 63 per cent involving offenders who were either passengers or drivers and 37 per cent bystanders, including police or innocent passengers in offending vehicles.

RMIT University Adjunct Professor Peter Norden said the findings illustrated that police should not be pursuing drivers when they did not know their circumstances.

''This confirms the anxieties that have been presented about police pursuits and the danger to human life for a long time,'' he said. ''Data like this takes away the blind support that is often given to police by the community that gives the impression they can do what they want.''

Queensland introduced legislation in 2010 that prevented police from starting a pursuit when the driver was wanted for drink driving or vehicle theft.

South Australia introduced similar legislation last year, while reviews are under way in New South Wales and Western Australia. Tasmania banned pursuits related to traffic offences and stolen cars in 1999.

In Victoria, a report released in May found more than 30 people had been killed in police chases since 2002, including six deaths in a 12-month period starting in July last year.

AIC research analyst Mathew Lyneham said the data, presented at the first International Conference on Law Enforcement and Public Health at Melbourne University, was being reviewed by state police departments and was likely to be published early next year.

He said 69 per cent of fatal pursuits had been in rural or regional areas.

Other findings included:

■Pursuits have increased by 10 per cent from 2009-11, but fatalities have dropped 50 per cent.

■The average length of pursuits is 2½ minutes, down from eight minutes in the early 2000s.

■Fifty per cent of all deaths in police operations were caused by pursuits.

■Fifty-three per cent of deaths involved people aged under 25.

■Eight-four per cent of those who died were men.

Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner for Road Policing Robert Hill said the conference would give the force a chance to explore innovative policing methods and learn from other jurisdictions.

The story Booze, drugs factor 'in most fatal pursuits' first appeared on The Age.

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