Mopeds have become the criminal’s transport of choice thanks to the same traffic-busting abilities that make them appealing to commuters. But they’re also thought to give a certain immunity from police chases, with many people believing that cops aren’t allowed to pursue helmetless riders.
Today the government has launched a consultation on rule changes that would close that perceived loophole.
Although it’s not strictly true that cops can’t chase riders without lids, under the current law police will call off pursuits in some circumstances for fear of being prosecuted themselves if the chase ends in a crash. And in many instances chasing a helmetless rider just puts the risk level too high.
It’s because, at the moment, a police driver who’s involved in a chase faces exactly the legal tests as any member of the public to decide whether his driving is careless or dangerous.
Today’s consultation paper puts forward the idea of creating a separate standard to decide whether a police officer involved in a pursuit or call-out should face those same standards, or whether a different set of standards should apply. The idea is that it will put the onus of risk in chases onto the suspects who are trying to escape rather than on the pursuing police.
According to today’s consultation document, the subjects under consideration for potential future action include:
• Considering whether any legislative change should apply only to police pursuits or to police response driving as well;
• Whether to revise the various exemptions from certain areas of road traffic legislation to make them clearer and more consistent;
• Amending the definitions in the offences of careless and dangerous driving to take account of the training and experience of police drivers; and
• Making clear that a suspect being pursued is responsible for their own decision to drive dangerously and that blame should not be attached to the pursuing police officer.
Under the current law, police on call-outs or chases are already exempt from some laws. They can exceed speed limits and jump red lights, for instance, without the fear of prosecution. But they remain subject to the same offenses of careless and dangerous driving as the rest of us. It introduces a problem, as it means that if a criminal drives dangerously or carelessly by the definition of the law – as most are sure to do in a chase – the following police may not be able to continue to pursue them for fear of falling foul of the same rules themselves.
The consultation suggest that police drivers, trained to a higher level than the average road user, should be judged by different standards. Basically, they should be able to get away with more before being considered to be ‘careless’ or ‘dangerous’.
In particular, the government says it intends “to smash the myth that officers cannot pursue riders who are not wearing helmets”.
Announcing today’s consultation, Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, Nick Hurd, said: “Police officers must have the confidence to pursue suspects where it is safe to do so and criminals should be in no doubt that they will not get away with a crime by simply driving recklessly.
“Our proposed changes will make sure that skilled police drivers who follow their rigorous training are protected, while ensuring the minority of officers who do cross the line are robustly held to account.”
Tim Rogers, Lead on Pursuit Driving for the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “We welcome this announcement as it is unacceptable to have officers trained to drive in a way that exposes them to prosecution merely for doing the job the public expect of them.
“I do however say this with caution as this has been an issue we have been campaigning on now for several years and although it is a positive step that the government have finally agreed that a legislation change is required, they must now act quickly to prevent more officers suffering unnecessary and often mendacious prosecutions.
“It is crucial we protect the people who protect us and give them the confidence to be able to do their jobs and keep the public safe.”