Editorial: Stop messy ends before they start

By DOUG LAING


As wake-up calls go, there is probably little to beat either a siren wailing around your neighbourhood, or a knock on the door bringing the chilling news of tragedy behind the sirens in someone else's neck of the woods.

Alarming at best, devastating at worst, but probable and possible outcomes respectively of the moments in which some of the drivers on our roads decide to get away from police by driving off at high speed.

Words such as "chase" and "pursuit" are common terms for what police refer to as "fleeing driver reports," of which there have been 303 in the police Eastern District this year, the area from the Takapau Plains to the East Cape.

The vast majority end in two to three minutes, when drivers think again about their moments of panic and stop as the lights start flashing behind them.

But, according to figures provided to Hawke's Bay Today yesterday, 28 did involve some sort of collision.

The motivations for drivers to do a runner vary widely, from someone driving home fearing that stopping at the checkpoint ahead after a half-pint with the workmates might through some misfortune cost them the licence, the job and the family, to evading detection or capture for serious crime.

Again in the vast majority of cases, the consequences of shooting the gap are much more serious than stopping, and usually lead to distress not only for the driver but also to those near and dear to them.

In the very worst cases, it's the whole country, when it wakes to news of a group of teenagers terminated in a vehicle around a lamp-post or a tree, or buried in the front of another vehicle overnight, certainly not the sort of news that encourages parents to hand the kids the key of the car before they get the key of the door.

Usually forgotten are the police officers thrown into these situations at a split-second's notice, possibly to become a part of tragedy, or, at best knowing that every movement of the accelerator will form a part of some inquisition somewhere.

The figures reveal the incidents in our region are constant at 29-32 each month, perhaps suggesting there is no great increase.

But baby-boomers, with nostalgic recall of actor Steve McQueen's airborne Mustang in the streets of San Francisco in the movie Bullitt (1968), and Roy Scheider chasing the New York train in The French Connection (1971), will disagree.

They didn't all leap into their cars and dice with death on the way home, being well aware that if there was an obstacle on or beside the road to be hit that's where it would come to an extremely messy end.

Four decades later, those who make the second decision of the modern-day flight from police, ie, to put the foot down even further, seem to have a different perspective on reality.

Whatever the original motivation, they seem to have watched more than one-too-many episodes of the world's greatest chases, or they've played too much Grand Theft Auto.

Is it that the chase televised live from a helicopter as life-and-death is played out below might be seen to provide a moment of notoriety otherwise perceived by the driver to be unattainable, or is it that the driver wants to find out if he really can hit anything at 180km/h, and just carry on without a mark on the body, or a scratch on the vehicle's paintwork?

The question for the country is not so much what to do once these "fleeing driver" incidents begin, but how to stop them from even starting.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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