Motorcycle accident lawyers at Pintas & Mullins point to a recent debate in upstate New York surrounding the death of a high school motorcyclist. The teen was killed in a crash after fleeing from a routine police traffic stop.
The Clarence High School senior was traveling at more than 100 miles per hour when he crashed, causing community members to question why officers were pursuing a motorcycle going that fast in the first place. Some highlight a Cattaraugus County crash in 1992 that killed three people, in which a jury decided two state troopers indeed helped cause the crash.
High-speed chases have the potential to end disastrously, with great harm and damage not only to the officers or person being pursued but to innocent bystanders as well. The decision to pursue in the first place depends on a number of factors, such as road conditions, time of day, traffic levels, weather, and the initial reason for pulling that vehicle over.
In other words, there is no blanket rule dictating who pursues and when - it is a decision made in a unique situation by a specific officer. The most recent crash occurred after officers stopped the teen for not having a license plate. The high school senior sped off, traveling about 1.4 miles before crashing into another vehicle. Witnesses told state police that the motorcycle was traveling at more than 100 miles per hour, and that the pursuing patrol car was traveling at a considerable slower speed, arriving at the scene of the crash about 30 seconds after it occurred.
Of course, such pursuits are exceedingly rare, occurring in less than 1 of 1,000 traffic stops. Officers affirm that the key to deciding whether to pursue someone or not depends largely on why the driver is fleeing in the first place. In the case of the high school senior, speculation is that he feared the traffic stop would interfere with his upcoming graduation or admittance into the Marine Corps.
Most police departments require officers to contact a supervisor before pursuing a suspect, who would make the final decision after being quickly briefed on the circumstances. The belief is that supervisors are better able to provide an objective third-party perspective. Additionally, after any kind of pursuit, most departments require an administrative review of the decision to pursue.
According to USA TODAY, innocent bystanders account for one-third of those killed in high-speed police chases. These fatalities have led communities throughout the United States to consider restricting such pursuits only to suspects involved in violent crimes.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that about 360 people die each year in police chases, however, a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina asserts that the actual number of fatalities is three or four times higher. The NHTSA does not take into account bystander deaths or fatalities occurring in the moments after the initial chase.