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IOPC: Law is wrong to compare police to 'careful and competent driver' standard


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Support for police pursuits amendment gathering pace.

IOPC: Law is wrong to compare police to 'careful and competent driver' standard

The police watchdog has released a statement backing planned changes to legislation which would offer roads policing officers better legal protection.

In May the Police Federation for England and Wales “cautiously” welcomed a Home Office consultation on draft amendments to road traffic law.

Under current law, the same legal test for careless and dangerous driving offences is applied to police officers and the general public.

The government is consulting on legislation which would require police officers to drive to the standard of a careful and competent police driver of a similar level of training, skill and driving tactics, including any exemptions from road traffic legislation, are authorised appropriately and are both necessary and proportionate.

It will also be made “clear in law” a suspect is responsible for their own decision to drive dangerously and blame should not be attached to the pursuing officer.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) response to the consultation, released on Thursday, stated: “It is inappropriate for police drivers who are involved in authorised pursuits or emergency response driving, and who are trained and have the necessary experience to do so, to be held to the driving standard of a ‘careful and competent’ motorist

“We believe that the expert training and experience of police drivers undertaking pursuits or responding to emergencies should be taken into account.” 

The IOPC wants the legislation to specifically refer to police drivers “trained to the relevant standard” to allow the Crown Prosecution Service to take account of an officer’s skills and reinforce the important of 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 should be a “logical approach” that takes note of current road design, the IOPC statement said.

It wants the reforms to apply to both police pursuits and emergency response driving.

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.

But the IOPC only investigates the most serious cases, giving an incomplete picture, and the watchdog wants research to be compiled into how many officers overall have been prosecuted following investigations.

Last week IOPC regional director Miranda Biddle praised the efforts of West Yorkshire officers to save David Ellam from an out of control dog.

The dog had been returned to Mr Ellam’s neighbour eight days before it mauled the 52-year-old  to death but an IOPC investigation commended the officers who came to his aid for their quick-thinking and bravery.

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