Car chase

Car chase

A car chase is the vehicular pursuit of a suspect by law enforcement officers. Car chases are often captured on film and broadcast due to the availability of video footage recorded by police cars and police and media helicopters participating in the chase. They are a popular subject with media and audiences due to their intensity and drama and the innate danger of high-speed driving.


In reality

Car chases occur when a suspect attempts to use a vehicle to escape from law enforcement attempting to detain or arrest them. The assumed offence committed may range from misdemeanours such as traffic infractions to felonies as serious as murder. When the suspect realizes that they have been spotted by law enforcement, they attempt to lose their pursuers by driving away, sometimes at high speed. In 2002, 700 pursuits were reported in the city of Los Angeles.[1] Police use a number of techniques to end chases, from pleading with the driver, waiting for the driver's vehicle to run out of gas, or hoping the driver's vehicle becomes somehow disabled to more forceful methods such as boxing in the vehicle with police cruisers, ramming the vehicle, the PIT maneuver, shooting out the tires, or the use of spike strips, though all efforts, which many of pose risk to all involved as well as bystanders, will be aimed at avoiding danger to civilians. When available, a helicopter may be employed, which in some cases, may follow the vehicle from above while ground units may or may not be involved. The StarChase system as of summer 2009 was in use by the Arizona Department of Public Safety.[2]

The February 2005 Macquarie Fields riots occurred in Sydney, Australia after a local driver crashed a stolen vehicle into a tree, killing his two passengers following a high-speed police pursuit. The death of university student Clea Rose following a police chase in Canberra sparked major recriminations over police pursuit policies. Ole Christian Bach was found shot and killed in Sweden in a presumed suicide after he had been followed in a car chase by Swedish undercover police.

Reality television has combined with the car chase genre in a number of television shows and specials featuring real footage, mostly taken from police cruisers and law enforcement or media helicopters of actual criminals fleeing from police.

One notable, recorded police chase occurred when an M60 Patton tank was stolen by Shawn Nelson from an Army National Guard armory, on May 17, 1995. Nelson went on a rampage through San Diego, California, with the massive tank crushing multiple civilian vehicles before wrecking its tread on the concrete median barrier of the freeway divider. Police were able to get aboard the tank and open the hatch, though had to resort to lethal force when the suspect would not surrender.

On June 4, 2004, welder Marvin Heemeyer went on a rampage in a heavily modified bulldozer in Granby, Colorado, wrecking 13 buildings including the town hall, the public library, a bank, a concrete batch plant, and a house owned by the town's former mayor, resulting in over $7 million in damage. The police were initially powerless, as all of their weapons could not penetrate the suspect's vehicle. However, the bulldozer's engine failed and the machine became stuck, so Heemeyer committed suicide by gunshot.

Risks and legal considerations

High-speed car chases are recognized as a road safety problem, as vehicles not involved in the pursuit may be hit by the elusive driver, who will often violate a number of traffic laws, often repeatedly, in their attempt to escape, or by the pursuing police cars. In the UK, it is estimated that 40 people a year are killed in road traffic incidents involving police, most as a result of a police pursuit. [3]

Kristie's Law is a proposed California law that would restrict immunity for damage (including injuries or deaths) caused by high-speed pursuits, where law enforcement agencies have established, but not followed, written pursuit policies.

In 2007, the United States Supreme Court held in Scott v. Harris (550 U.S. 372) that a "police officer's attempt to terminate a dangerous high-speed car chase that threatens the lives of innocent bystanders does not violate the Fourth Amendment, even when it places the fleeing motorist at risk of serious injury or death."

In most common law jurisdictions, the fireman's rule prevents police officers injured in such pursuits from filing civil lawsuits for monetary damages against the fleeing criminals, because such injuries are supposed to be an inherent risk of the job. Public outrage at such immunity has resulted in statutory exceptions. One example is California Civil Code Section 1714.9 (enacted 1982), which reinstates liability where the criminal knew or should have known that the police were present.

Interjurisdictional Pursuits and Policy Issues

One particular hazard that is attendant to police pursuits is the problem of multiple law enforcement agencies becoming involved in a car chase that crosses municipal and jurisdictional boundaries. This is often complicated by radio communication incompatibility and policy differences in the various departments involved in a pursuit.

The city of Dallas, Texas was the first major city in the United States to adopt an "Inter-Jurisdictional Pursuit Policy" to address the problems inherent in car chases that involved more that one law enforcement agency. In August 1984, the Dallas Police Department's Planning and Research Division, under the command of Captain Rick Stone, began crafting a policy that more than twenty (20) local law enforcement agencies could agree to abide by when car chases crossed their borders. The result was a model policy that became the standard for use by police departments around the country.[4]

In Europe, as many national borders no longer have border stations, car chases may sometimes cross national boundaries. States ofen have agreements in place where the police of one can continue the chase across the national boundary.

In film

In television and film, the term "car chase" refers to a scene involving one or more automobiles pursuing one another; the chase may or may not involve a police car. Car chases are a staple of the action movie genre, and feature-length films have been built entirely around car chases, often featuring high-powered, exotic vehicles. They are popular because they are fast moving scenes that generate a great deal of excitement and action, due to the speed of the vehicles involved, and the potential collisions and the debris resulting from the wreckage, while not being hugely expensive to stage.

Although car chases on film were staged as early as the motor vehicle itself, the general consensus among historians and film critics is that the first modern car chase movie was 1968's Bullitt.[5][6][7][8] The revolutionary 10-minute-long chase scene in Bullitt was far longer and far faster than what had gone before, and placed cameras so that the audience felt as though they were inside the cars. Even during the most calamitous scenes, the star - Steve McQueen - could be clearly seen at the wheel of the vehicle.

The French Connection further increased the realism. While previous chases had obviously been filmed on closed roads, isolated highways, or Sunday mornings (including Bullitt), The French Connection placed the chase in the midst of busy New York traffic and pedestrians. The producer of both Bullitt and The French Connection, Philip D'Antoni, went on to direct The Seven-Ups with yet another trademark chase sequence through New York featuring Roy Scheider from The French Connection as well as Bill Hickman, one of the drivers who had previously appeared in Bullitt.

As time went on, so did the expectations of the movie car chase. Since Bullitt, car chases featured in movies have become more advanced and arguably more entertaining. Car crashes have also formed an increasingly important role, with the destruction of any vehicle often coming as a delight to the viewer. An early example of a staged but startling accident in a movie chase can be found in the 1974 movie McQ, which featured an incredible rollover, the first cannon rollover in fact, across a beach. The spectacle came at a cost, however, for stunt driver Hal Needham, who sustained multiple injuries after setting the explosives too high.

Arguably the most typical car chase is one in which a car is being pursued by police cars. In part because car chases are so common many movie makers try to introduce a new twists to them. One of the most famous variations is from The French Connection and involves a car chasing an elevated train. Chases involving buses, trucks, snowmobiles, trains, tanks, and virtually every other type of vehicle (with or without wheels) have appeared at some point.

Car chases can also be played for laughs. Films such as The Keystone Kops, W.C. Fields comedies, The Three Stooges, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, The Shaggy Dog, No Deposit, No Return, Freaky Friday, The Gnome Mobile, The Million Dollar Duck and many others have car chases that are used for comedy.

Probably the most complex type of car chase involves going the wrong way at high speed against moderately congested freeway traffic, most notably in To Live and Die in L.A. and Ronin which, by no small coincidence, were directed by William Friedkin (The French Connection) and John Frankenheimer (French Connection II), respectively.

Several films that feature complex large-scale chases involving a lot of vehicles in the pursuit include The Blues Brothers, The Transporter, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Mad Max 2. Another method of escalating a car chase scene is to have a character move from one vehicle to another and to fight in or on top of a moving vehicle as the Wachowski Brothers employed very effectively in The Matrix Reloaded.

A number of television shows have been built around the popularity of car chases, such as The Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider, Airwolf, and most recently, Chase.

In more modern times, the use of computer-generated imagery is becoming increasingly popular, and, although costly, eliminates any danger level. While impressive at times, it is often argued that it eliminates the realism of the chase scene, which can then in turn damage the established thrill factor. Recent examples of this computer-generated imagery can be found in the Michael Bay films Bad Boys II and The Island. An example of a lower budget film using computer-generated imagery in a car chase is RSTC: Reserve Spy Training Corps. Driven was particularly panned for its CGI car chase sequences. Such criticism has affected recent Hollywood productions; for example, films like Ronin, The Bourne Supremacy, The Kingdom, and The Dark Knight all had actual live-action chases with minimal use of CGI, if at all.

In the action comedy film, Hot Fuzz, the scene in which Inspector Angel chases the speeding car has been declared the shortest car chase in film history. The brevity of the scene, as acknowledged in interviews, was itself the joke.

In computer and video games

Certain racing computer and video games with police cars have car chase (pursuit) racing/evasion modes. Notable examples of such games include the following:

See also


  1. ^ Los Angeles urges media to curb coverage of police chases -
  2. ^ ADPS press release. "DPS becomes the first state-level law enforcement agency in the country to deploy the StarChase Pursuit Management System" September 30, 2009; accessed 12-11-2009
  3. ^ Independent Police Complaints Commission
  4. ^ "Dallas-area police departments establish policy on pursuits", Dallas Morning News, September 8, 1985.
  5. ^ John Alfred Heitmann, The Automobile And American Life (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2009), 182-183.
  6. ^ Jesse Crosse, The Greatest Movie Car Chases of All Time (St. Paul: MBI Publishing, 2006), 16.
  7. ^ Todd Gitlin, Media Unlimited: How The Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2002), 90.
  8. ^ William Krause, Hollywood TV and Movie Cars (St. Paul: MBI Publishing, 2001), 39.

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