Police driving a Tesla patrol car in California had to abandon pursuit of a suspect when the electric car ran out of charge.

But officers say the drama was a result of human error as opposed to a problem with the car.

The Tesla Model S is built in Fremont, California, where the local police department fields an example of the car on a trial basis.

Fremont Police officer Jesse Hartman made headlines around the US when his Tesla Model S showed a low battery warning in the line of duty.

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Radio released following the chase shows Hartman telling dispatchers "I've just realised I'm down to six miles of battery… I have to find a charging station for the Tesla so I can make it back".

Another officer in a conventional car took over the pursuit.

Police said the Tesla's battery went flat because an officer on a previous shift forgot to plug it in.

California's Mercury News, which first reported the story, said the Tesla is part of a trial to see if electric cars can replace petrol and diesel-powered vehicles on government fleets.

The publication quoted Fremont Police captain Sean Washington as saying the car performs impressively, and that "we are easily able to make it through an 11-hour shift with battery power to spare".

Victoria Police became the first Australian jurisdiction to field an electric highway patrol car by putting a Tesla Model X to work in June.

Highway patrol officer Inspector Stuart Bailey told the Herald Sun that the Tesla is "the fastest car in our fleet".

"I can see in the future our entire fleet is electric,'' Inspector Bailey said.

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"It's coming and it's coming rapidly.

"We're putting ourselves in a great position so when it does come we've done all the research and development and we're ready for the changeover without affecting our capability."