About 350 people die in the U.S. every year in car crashes resulting from police pursuits, and one third of them are innocent bystanders. The Seattle Times said the figures were compiled by two researchers at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Some of Washington State’s largest police agencies acknowledge the dangers, and have been working on ways to limit some of the risks. Last week, a man kidnapped a 9-year-old Mercer Island girl, held her hostage in his vehicle and led more than 50 officers on an almost hourlong chase that reached 100 mph. In December, a 29-year-old man died after his car was struck by a teenage driver fleeing state troopers.
Sometimes, as in the kidnapping and the recent ramming of a suspected armed robber’s car in Seattle in January, “if they’re not apprehended, it could end up in a death,” Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said.
The study by Fred Rivara and Chris Mack, of Harborview’s Injury Prevention and Research Center, was published in the April issue of the journal Injury Prevention.
It examined all traffic fatalities in the nation from 1994 to 2002 and found 2,654 fatal crashes resulting from police pursuits, with 3,146 deaths. Of those deaths, 1,048 were of people who were not in fleeing vehicles – occupants in another vehicle, pedestrians or bicyclists – and 40 were police officers.
Rivara, a University of Washington professor of pediatrics and epidemiology, said the report is “meant to stimulate some discussion among the public and the police about these police chases” and to examine if “there are other ways of stopping these cars.”
Kerlikowske banned high-speed chases in Seattle last summer, despite complaints from some rank-and-file officers that their hands were being tied. “We have to change and adapt,” he said. “We look at the officers killed in the line of duty every year, and more are killed in traffic-related incidents, including pursuits, than are killed by assault.”