The government has proposed new laws that offer police officers with greater legal protection during chases.
According to the Home Office, the changes are designed to tackle motorcycle-related crime and will ‘send a clear message that criminals cannot escape arrest simply by driving recklessly’. At present, police officers are placed under the same legal test as the general public when it comes to careless and dangerous driving offences.
Police have said the current regulations mean officers have to rely on the discretion of the Crown Prosecution Service and could face suspension from duty when they have done nothing wrong.
As a result, the government is planning a separate test for police drivers that will automatically clear officers of wrongdoing as long as they drive ‘to the standard of a careful and competent police driver of a similar level of training and skill’ and that ‘the driving tactics employed are authorised appropriately and are both necessary and proportionate’.
The Home Office is also using the rules to ‘smash the myth’ that police cannot enter a pursuit with motorcyclists who are not wearing helmets by making it clear that riders are responsible for their own safety and no blame should be attached to the pursuing officer.
The proposals will now enter a consultation phase, before the decision is taken on whether to enshrine them in law. Policing minister Nick Hurd, said: ‘Officers must have the confidence to pursue suspects where it is safe to do so and criminals should be in no doubt that they will not get away with a crime by simply driving recklessly.
‘Our proposed changes will make sure that skilled police drivers who follow their rigorous training are protected, while ensuring the minority of officers who do cross the line are robustly held to account.
Tim Rogers, of the Police Federation of England and Wales, which has campaigned on the issue for several years, welcomed the announcement. ‘It is unacceptable to have officers trained to drive in a way that exposes them to prosecution merely for doing the job the public expect of them,’ he said.
‘I do, however, say this with caution. Although it is a positive step that the government have finally agreed that a legislation change is required, they must now act quickly to prevent more officers suffering unnecessary and often mendacious prosecutions.
‘It is crucial we protect the people who protect us and give them the confidence to be able to do their jobs and keep the public safe.’