Police laid down road spikes three times while trying to catch a fleeing driver who they allege abandoned his burning car on SH2 and jumped into Wairoa River near Tauranga.

The car burst into flames when it was abandoned at the Wairoa Bridge about 10am.

A witness saw a man jumping from the bridge into the river as police continued to search for him.

A police spokeswoman said police followed a driver in Waihi shortly after 9.30am. Police followed at a distance, not in a chase, but set up road spikes near Wairoa Bridge, she said.

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The driver allegedly took off at speed and police started a short pursuit "but abandoned the pursuit a short time later".

About 10.15am police laid road spikes on Whakamarama Rd, blowing one of the car's tyres.

The spokeswoman said the car continued to Ross Rd on the rim of the damaged tyre and another set of road spikes were set up at the intersection of Youngson Rd and SH2.

"The car went over these spikes also, then turned on to Barrett Rd and SH2. A further set of spikes were deployed near Wairoa Bridge, where police observed the underbody of the car appeared to be on fire."

The driver allegedly fled the car and jumped into the Wairoa River, swimming towards the ocean, the spokeswoman said.

A driver fleeing police runs over road spikes during a pursuit in the Western Bay of Plenty today. Photo/George Novak
A driver fleeing police runs over road spikes during a pursuit in the Western Bay of Plenty today. Photo/George Novak

An eyewitness, Tauranga's Willie Uili, yelled out to the man who jumped into the Wairoa River - urging him back to land.

Officers took a man into custody shortly afterwards.

Police shut both ends of the bridge, creating gridlock for motorists in the area.

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Firefighters at the scene of a car on fire on SH2 at the Wairoa Bridge, where the driver fled the car and jumped into the river during a police pursuit. Photo/George Novak
Firefighters at the scene of a car on fire on SH2 at the Wairoa Bridge, where the driver fled the car and jumped into the river during a police pursuit. Photo/George Novak

A photographer at the scene said the car was still on fire at the time and was about 200m away from the bridge.

"The bridge is closed down and people are standing around because they can't go anywhere.

A police communications spokesman earlier said officers began a pursuit of a driver who allegedly did not stop for them near Athenree Rd at 9.20am.

A car if on fire at Wairoa Bridge as police chase a fleeing driver. Photo/supplied
A car if on fire at Wairoa Bridge as police chase a fleeing driver. Photo/supplied

The pursuit follows a call from the Automobile Association that the Government should review its police pursuit policy and consider the merits of an outright ban.

Yesterday, three people involved in a high-speed chase in the Tasman district were killed - part of a deadly weekend on the country's roads that claimed eight lives.

Police talk to a man who jumped into a river after a police pursuit on SH2 in the Western Bay of Plenty. Photo/George Novak
Police talk to a man who jumped into a river after a police pursuit on SH2 in the Western Bay of Plenty. Photo/George Novak

AA motoring affairs general manager Mike Noon said one-in-five police pursuits ended in crashes. Banning pursuits was "something we should look at and see how it is working in other conditions".

The comment drew qualified support last night from the Police Association, which told the NZ Herald "everything should be on the table" - though added any changes shouldn't be a knee-jerk reaction to tragic events.

The driver fleeing police near Nelson tried to overtake a truck about 5.40am on Sunday but collided with an on-coming vehicle on State Highway 6, killing three people.

One of the victims was an innocent motorist in the oncoming car.

On average, about 10 drivers flee police every day. Between October 2016 and September last year, seven deaths and 552 crashes were recorded. Six people have died in police pursuits in the last five months alone.

Yesterday's crash brought the year's national road toll to 77 - nine more than at the same time last year.

Fatal crashes this weekend:

• Three dead in Nelson, Marlborough. Sunday 5.40am.

• One dead in Hikurangi, Northland. About midnight Saturday.

• Two dead north of Kaeo, Far North. 2.20pm Saturday.

• Two dead near Whakapapa, central North Island. 6.40am Saturday.