Waikato drivers are opting to flee police in growing numbers, despite a nationwide drop in pursuits, new figures show.
Police statistics supplied to The Waikato Times under the Official Information Act show there were 212 pursuits in 2012 compared to 162 five years ago.
And one expert reckons those drivers are more concerned by the prospect of receiving a fine or losing their licence than the thought of injuring themselves or others.
"The idea of being caught and prosecuted for seemingly minor criminal actions holds a significant amount of fear for the offender, especially for the younger offender," said Auckland University criminologist Robert Fleet, a masters candidate in criminology.
When asked what made drivers risk trying to outrun police, he said they would be balancing the risks associated with being caught with the possibility of escaping. "When fines represent a significant proportion of your income, loss of licence may cost you your job and more serious convictions result in restrictions on future travel and employment, it is easy to see the stakes get raised quickly for young people."
He said decisions were also invariably impaired because of drugs and alcohol. In the past month a spate of Waikato crashes, after abandoned police pursuits, have in some cases proven fatal.
On Waitangi Day, Rocky Joe Kohatu Hepi, 17, was killed when he crashed at the intersection of Baverstock Rd and Wexford Rise in Rotokauri after an abandoned police pursuit. Also in his 1991 Nissan Maxima was a 14-year-old boy, travelling in the front seat, who was taken to Waikato Hospital with serious leg and abdominal injuries. A 15-year-old girl, who had been wearing a seatbelt, was uninjured.
On February 28 police were ordered to abandon a high-speed pursuit seconds before the car they were chasing drove over road spikes and crashed into trees near Hamilton.
The pursuit, which injured wanted men John Koteka, 34, and Alex Tereora, 31, is now being investigated by the Independent Police Conduct Authority.
On March 4 a man and woman were arrested in a hay barn after an abandoned police chase of a white Holden that reached speeds of 130kmh.
However, Waikato road policing manager Inspector Marcus Lynam said police were heartened by figures showing fewer crashes as a result of fleeing drivers.
Mr Lynam said police also faced a balancing act between their responsibility to uphold the law and protect public safety when drivers fled police.
"The important question that needs to be asked is why that person feels the need to avoid police in the first place, when fleeing not only brings a much higher chance of further charges - but worse, a potential lifetime of grief for devastated families that are left behind," Mr Lynam said.
Figures show that about 24 per cent of fleeing vehicles are stolen while 51 per cent of pursuits involve a driver who is disqualified, suspended, forbidden, unlicensed or otherwise illegally driving.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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