For years, Hollywood has exploited society’s fascination with thrilling and dangerous circumstances, particularly with the car-chase scene. Nothing could be further from the truth according to this auto accident attorney in Orange County. From the iconic police chases in movies like Bullitt and The French Connection to reality T.V. shows, risky, high-speed chases have been delivered to audiences as entertainment. The separation from staged spectacle to real-life tragedy, however, is sweeping.
On the streets, would-be audiences become innocent bystanders-often the victims of police chases. Police in pursuit inadvertently take the lives of about 400 people annually, and the numbers continue to rise, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHSTA. Thousands have been injured. More than 200 officers have died.
Southern California-with its extensive network of freeways-accounts for the region with the highest rate of pursuit in the country. As an auto accident attorney in Orange County, we can attest to the violence and injury that frequently occurs to clients of ours. Approximately 50% of high-speed pursuits result in collision and, consequently, injury. The police are often the pursuers, colliding with surrounding vehicles as they chase their target, the criminal. Police departments are granted immunity from liability if regulations for pursuit have been mandated, regardless of whether those regulations have been followed.
This immunity has implications varying from serious to fatal. In Garden Grove, an attempt by police to pull over a BMW for a minor traffic violation resulted in a six-car pile-up after the driver-who, it turns out, had stolen the car-fled. Fortunately, there were no fatalities. In Chico, the outcome was bleaker. While fleeing from police in a stolen vehicle, a teenager crashed into the side of the Priano family’s mini-van, killing their daughter Kristie. The lawless teenager was not even arrested after the accident. Outraged, the residents of Chico wrote “Kristie’s Law.” The proposed law would limit the immunity from liability of law enforcement when high-speed pursuits result in bystander injuries or deaths. Unfortunately, the law failed to pass in the California Legislature, leaving the citizens of Chico and neighboring cities to ponder the alternatives for preventing pursuit-related accidents.
With the proper implementation, tactical methods and technologies exist that may reduce pursuit-related deaths and injuries. In recent years, the PIT maneuver, in which officers box-in suspects with their squad cars, has been successful. This method requires skill and coordination, resulting in inconsistent application and, therefore, pursuit outcomes. Spike strips are another tool. Police must first outmaneuver the suspect in order to lay them out, which is not always possible. A laser-guided launcher carrying a tracking device, called StarChase, is currently in its final testing phases at the Los Angeles Police Department. Once launched from the front grill of the squad car onto the fleeing vehicle, the police will be able to track the suspect using GPS, negating the necessity of a dangerous, fast-paced pursuit.
The number of innocent bystanders injured or killed as a result of pursuit-related accidents rises annually. Police are responsible for maintaining order and protecting the public; at times, in endeavoring to accomplish these societal necessities, police jeopardize both. Adhering to departmental rules for pursuit and properly applying tactical methods are ways to mitigate the problem. We have yet to see how technologies like StarChase will change the future.
James Ballidis is an author and attorney practicing in Orange County, California. If you need help, please call us with any question you may have. We have free resources, access to an accident recovery hotline and a knowledgeable staff of attorneys to provide you with the information and assistance you need. Call us at 1 866 981-5596.