The late Celia Lashlie, who probably knew more about raising boys than anyone else, had a word of warning for an audience in Kaitaia years ago.

If boys weren't allowed to take risks when they were young, by climbing trees, building and crashing trolleys — the sort of things boys used to get up to before we morphed into a society where physical safety trumped every other consideration — they would do it when they were older, with alcohol and cars.

Risk-taking, she said, was an integral part of boys growing into men.

Those words come to mind every time a young man dies in circumstances such as the crash that killed three teenagers in Christchurch last week. They came to police attention when the car they had stolen was clocked at 130km/h in a residential street. The police pursuit was quickly abandoned, but road spikes stopped the car a short time later.


The driver, who had turned 16 two days earlier, his 13-year-old brother and another 13 year old died when the car crashed into a tree and burst into flames.

And so we resumed the familiar debate regarding the rights and wrongs of police pursuits. Presumably the police should have assessed the age of the driver, and his likely lack of skill, and let him go, although at 130km/h the chances of these boys, and other people, dying was very real, with or without a pursuit.

This time we were told that other countries have stopped police pursuits, resulting in fewer deaths and less offending, while a former police officer in this country said drivers had been less likely to flee in the days when they knew the police weren't going to give up, as they so often do now.

It's probably fair to say that people flee the police for one of three reasons — for sport, because if they are stopped the police are going to discover evidence of offending beyond whatever it was that prompted the pursuit, or they panic. The father of two of the boys who died in Christchurch simply blamed the police for killing his sons.

They had been good boys, he said, even if they had stolen cars and had been involved in police pursuits in the past. They were just kids who had been doing what boys do. Half an hour before they died they had been amusing themselves by "doing skids out the back of their mother's," presumably in the stolen car.

The older boy had gone with his younger brother and the other 13 year old because he wanted to protect them from getting into pursuits and fights — he was trying to keep them safe. The police should have known who was in the car, and followed up with his sons when they got home. And if they had really needed to use road spikes they should have chosen a spot where there was nothing for the car to crash into.

This extraordinary logic isn't the solution — it's the problem. And if you believe the Sensible Sentencing Trust it's a problem we have brought upon ourselves, over a relatively short period of time.

According to the SST, about 25 per cent of police chases were abandoned in 2009, rising to almost 60 per cent last year. The number of drivers who decided to flee rather than stop had doubled, from around 2000 to 4000, over the same period.


It's probably safe to assume that many of those 4000 drivers who fled last year were grown men who decided that it would not be in their best interests to stop. Some, perhaps many, might well have calculated that if they drove fast enough, and took enough risks, the police would let them go.

We know that some of those who did not stop were children, who probably did not have the ability to calculate the risks, who were not especially competent drivers, and might well have panicked. Whatever the situation, the police should be trusted to pursue vehicles that do not stop, and should have public support for continuing those pursuits to their conclusion in all but the most dangerous of circumstances.

No one wants to see kids die, but those who steal cars and drive them at 130km/h are not the main consideration. God knows how many people might have died in Christchurch that night, and quite frankly the three teenagers would have been the least concern for many of us.

For the father to bleat that they were just doing what boys do says a great deal about how he sees his obligations as a father, but, sadly, some will agree with him. They are the problem. Not the police. Not the law that gives the police the right to pursue a vehicle.

Not those who support the police and do not wish to see further softening of their response to crime or dangerous driving.

All might not be lost though, judging by the national reaction to the Liverpudlian family who have been entertaining us for the last week or two.

If nothing else it's nice to know that people other than New Zealanders go abroad and disgrace themselves, but this lot have inspired unbridled ire with their antics, including eating without paying, pinching stuff from a service station, showing a marked lack of respect for our environment, and most memorably the threat made by their youngest member, a small boy, to 'knock out the brains' of a woman who remonstrated with them.

General disgust quickly reached fever pitch, and not only amongst the media, who are paid to hit the fever pitch button at every opportunity. Ordinary folk took on the job of tracking these tourists from hell as they made their way down the country, and Immigration NZ, moving at the speed of light, told them to leave, although they were given some weeks in which to appeal. (See? Immigration does have ears!)

The reaction was quite extraordinary, given that only one of them had been accused of a criminal offence — small-scale shoplifting — although the little brain-bashing boy displayed, thanks to CCTV images, that he's a pretty good little thief too.

Perhaps the national fascination with this family owed much to the fact that it had very little real news to compete against, but at least it gave us the chance to feel superior. No New Zealander would behave so badly in a foreign country. We might do it here, but we can be trusted to behave impeccably when we're a guest.

The irony is that such umbrage was taken by the incident that kicked the whole thing off — leaving rubbish at a beach. It's too late for the Liverpudlians, but future visitors to these shores must be made aware that we New Zealanders treasure our natural environment. We simply do not rubbish the beaches of which we are so proud. Or the bush. Or the mountains, rivers and lakes. We love our natural environment, and would never trash it.

Unless, of course, we've got some bottles, cans, plastic, takeaway containers, appliances and mattresses to get rid of and can't afford to take them to the tip. Or can't be bothered.

But that's different. This is our country, and if we want to pollute it, we can, and will. If we want to turn a blind eye when our kids steal or threaten violence, we'll do that too. And if we want to behave in the most boorish fashion, who's going to stop us?

The important thing to remember if you want to come here and enjoy all that we have to offer, is that you are expected to do as we say, not as we do. And if you see a police car with lights and sirens in the rear view mirror, put your foot down. Chances are they'll let you go.