IOPC welcomes aim of proposed changes to the law governing police driving
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has welcomed government proposals for changes to the law, guidance and practice surrounding police pursuits. We have made some suggestions to help ensure that the new law achieves its aims, without unintended consequences for public safety.
In our response to a Home Office consultation launched in May, we support the intent that police officers who are appropriately trained and have been authorised to do so, should be able to pursue suspects or respond to emergencies without fear of prosecution or disciplinary action.
Police drivers involved in pursuits or responding to emergencies are currently held to the driving standard of a ‘careful and competent’ motorist. We endorse the view that this does not take into account the expert training and experience of police drivers. We therefore agree with a proposal to change the driving standard to that of a ‘careful and competent police driver’.
We would like the legislation to specifically state that this is a police driver ‘trained to the relevant appropriate standard.’ This separate standard will allow investigators and the Crown Prosecution Service to take account of a driver’s higher level of training and skill. It will also reinforce the importance of police drivers receiving high quality training.
IOPC Deputy Director General Ian Todd said: “Police drivers need to pursue suspects and respond quickly to emergency calls as part of their duty – and that’s what the public want them to do. So it’s right that their training and skills are properly recognised in law.
“Deaths and injuries involving police drivers are thankfully rare. However, pursuing suspects and responding to emergencies carries risks not only for the police and the driver of any pursued vehicle, but for passengers, bystanders and other road users. Our experience investigating fatal road incidents has given us considerable insight into the traumatic impact these have on injured parties, their families and the police officers involved.
“While we broadly welcome the proposals, any change to legislation must not have unintended consequences for public safety, nor must it undermine the ability to hold the police to account for their decision-making and risk-assessment during pursuits or when driving at speed.”
The IOPC also supports a proposed review, and any necessary amendment, of the emergency services’ exemptions from certain aspects of road safety law (speed limits and road signs for example) to provide greater clarity and consistency. There needs to be a logical approach that takes account of current road design, markings and signage.
For consistency and fairness the proposed reforms should apply to both police pursuits and emergency response driving. It would be illogical to adopt different standards as similar issues can arise in both types of driving.
While we acknowledge concerns about the impact of investigations on officers who were engaged in pursuits, our statistics show that it is very uncommon for an officer to be prosecuted following investigations by us or our predecessor the IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Commission).
From 97 independent investigations completed between 1 April 2012 and 30 September 2017 two officers were prosecuted for pursuit-related incidents and none convicted. Over the same period five officers were prosecuted following investigations into emergency response driving, resulting in four convictions.
In our response to the consultation, we stress that this is an incomplete picture as the majority of police-related road traffic incidents are investigated by the police themselves, while we investigate only the most serious cases. We are not aware of any national data that shows how many officers overall have been prosecuted following investigations.