The Chase is a four-day Herald series looking at police pursuits and fleeing drivers. Since January 2008 there have been more than 30,000 pursuits, hundreds of crashes and 79 deaths. The series runs from Monday to Thursday ahead of a joint review of pursuits by police and the IPCA which will be released on Friday.

Teenagers fleeing police don't care about the consequences - they are often high on adrenalin and trying to be "heroes in their own movies".

The reasons drivers choose to flee from police vary but experts say with young drivers it often comes down to the thrill of the chase and trying to replicate what they see on television or play on Xbox or Playstation.

Previous reviews into pursuits have revealed 40 per cent of drivers who don't stop for police are under the age of 20 and a further 30 per cent between 20 and 29 years old.


The vast majority are male and many are known to police already for previous pursuits, joyriding or stealing or breaking into cars.

Only seven percent were aged over 40.

Criminology and social history expert Professor Greg Newbold said in many cases those drivers don't think about the consequences of their actions.

"They are trying to be their own heroes in their own movie, that's all it is."

"They see car chases on games and in movies all the time and they think it's heroic and in the superficial way they think it will be exciting to do the same thing," he said.

"They don't see anyone getting smashed up so they think they will be fine.

"They don't realise what the actual consequences are and I think that's why they take off."

Older drivers had a very different thought process when fleeing police said Newbold.


They may fear being caught out for something - being over the alcohol limit or doing something else illegal.

Newbold said young drivers don't necessarily think they can get away with it, they just love the chase and showing off.

"It's definitely a male thing, the machismo, the fast cars - I think the adrenalin kicks in.

"They're getting a hell of a rush out of it, a hell of a rush of danger, and that's behind a lot of it.

"As you get older you don't get that."

Newbold said there was "simply no real logic" to fleeing police.

"It's like when people escape from prison - they know even if they get out they are going to get caught again but they still do it."

Christchurch teenagers Glen and Craig Macallister and Brooklyn Taylor died after their stolen car crashed. They were being pursued by police at high speed before they crashed. Photograph NZ Police
Christchurch teenagers Glen and Craig Macallister and Brooklyn Taylor died after their stolen car crashed. They were being pursued by police at high speed before they crashed. Photograph NZ Police

Stu Kearns, former head of the Waitemata District Serious Crash Unit, said research showed fleeing drivers would still run minutes after the sirens stopped sounding and police had abandoned the chase.

Despite the chase stopping they would continue "driving like an idiot" because the adrenaline was still pumping and they still believed they would be caught.

Road safety advocate Clive Matthew-Wilson said it was pointless to expect teenagers to think logically.

"The simple fact is: the part of the brain that allows an adult to make rational decisions doesn't form properly until the early twenties," he said.

"That's why teenagers tend to make impulsive decisions that often end badly.

"Given that teenagers aren't going to stop and think, it's up to the cops to stop and think, instead of letting adrenaline rule their decision making process."

Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft said there were reasons why young people are more at risk than others.

"Considerable brain development evidence shows that teenagers' pre-frontal brain cortex is not developed enough to allow them to objectively assess risks before and during pursuits."

"This makes them more likely to flee from police, even if they have only committed a minor traffic offence. This puts not only young drivers but all other road users at increased risk"

"To make matters worse, young people are extremely likely to have passengers in their vehicle when pursued."

Green Party police spokeswoman Golriz Ghahraman was concerned about the number of teens caught up in fatal police pursuits.

She likened the current approach as akin to using deadly force for minor offending, and said many teens would be fleeing because they were scared of being caught without a license.

There is no explicit ruling in New Zealand police policy regarding the response to young fleeing drivers - many of who are to young to have been behind the wheel to begin with.
However, policy since 2004 has allowed officers to use discretion.

Seven of the fifteen people killed in pursuits since 2018 were teenagers - the youngest Meadow James was just 12.


• January 2019 - Brothers Craig, 13 , and Glen Mcallister, 16 died alongside Craig's best fried Brooklyn Taylor, 13, when the stolen car they were in crashed after hitting police spikes in Christchurch. The car hit a tree and burst into flames.

• November 2018 - Alexia Chrissy-Marie Noble-Hazelwood, 18 died when the car she was in ploughed through a fence and into a tree and building in Christchurch.

• May 2018 - Meadow James, 12 and driver Ihaia McPhee Maxwell, 15 both died after the stolen car they were in slid into a ditch and hit a power pole in Palmerston North

• May 2018 - Bailey Patmore, 15, died in boot of stolen car when it crashed in Wellington