4 April 2023

Police road spikes ended the chase but did they endanger lives?

| Chris Roe
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car rolling

What measures were taken by police to reduce risk to the public before deploying road spikes? Photo: @kirristammers/TikTok.

Questions are being asked about the deployment of road spikes in the face of oncoming traffic after police sought to stop a stolen vehicle speeding past the RAAF base towards Wagga Wagga on Thursday.

The teenage driver allegedly led police on multiple chases between Nowra and Wagga before the pursuit came to an end in a spectacular crash into a tree and the traffic lights at the Forest Hill Public School crossing.

Despite the SUV swerving wildly across the road and narrowly missing a string of vehicles, there was no loss of life, but the decision to use the road spikes on the edge of a residential area in the busy late-afternoon traffic is questionable.

READ ALSO UPDATE: Dashcam footage captures final moments of teen pursuit

Member for Wagga Wagga Dr Joe McGirr has reviewed footage of the incident and described it as “distressing”.

“It’s a Highway Patrol issue, and I understand they do review those incidents,” Dr McGirr said.

“I think it’s very important that this is thoroughly reviewed because, on the face of it, there did appear to be a considerable danger to the public.”

stop stick

The US-made Stop Stick is used by law enforcement all over the world. Photo: Supplied.

NSW Police first introduced the tyre-deflating device (TDD), the ”Stop Stick”, to all Highway Patrol cars in 2003 after an escalating number of fatalities during police pursuits.

Ideally, tyre-deflation devices cause a slow deflation of a vehicle’s tyres and bring it to a steady stop as safely as possible, but as the US manufacturer of the Stop Stick TDD declares in its training manual, “NEVER deploy STOP STICK if you believe the location or circumstances of your pursuit make it unsafe to do so!”

READ ALSO New Government but Wagga Council remains set on Ambo refund

NSW Police declined to comment on the specific protocols for the deployment of TDD in residential areas, apart from insisting that “safety is always the number one priority of the NSW Police”.

But one wonders whether that would be enough if there had been a fatality as the car swerved into traffic at the end of the six-hour chase.

The alleged 17-year-old driver of a stolen Holden SUV clearly posed a risk to the public, and police were eager to bring the pursuit to an end before he headed into Wagga at the busiest time of the afternoon.

The chase had begun on the Princes Highway South of Nowra just after 11 am and police were forced to pull back twice due to safety concerns.

By about 5:20 pm, with the car headed towards Wagga on the Sturt Highway, Riverina Traffic and Highway Patrol deployed road spikes near Borombola and succeeded in deflating the front driver’s-side tyre.

But as the car failed to stop, road spikes were deployed for a second time as the vehicle sped past the RAAF Base at Forest Hill.

Dashcam video uploaded to TikTok captured the final moments of the pursuit via a rear-facing camera.

A Highway Patrol vehicle can be clearly seen on the side of the road where a Stop Stick has been placed, ready to be deployed.

The owner of the camera can be heard commenting that police were “chasing someone, they’ve got their spikes out!”.

roadside police car

Highway Patrol awaits the stolen vehicle with a Stop Stick ready to be deployed to the left of the frame. Photo: @kirristammers/TikTok.

The driver of the approaching SUV appears to spot the trap and can be seen swerving into the opposite lane and the path of an oncoming B-double.

He overcorrects, veers back into his own lane and collides with the rear of a slow-moving HiLux.

The Holden swerves back across a median strip, narrowly missing a second oncoming truck and a car before hitting the median strip, flipping over and tumbling past, metres from the camera, before spiralling to a stop after collecting a tree and traffic light opposite the Forest Hill Public School.

Police confirmed that the second deployment of road spikes was not successful and that “the Holden lost control after swerving to avoid them”.

car rolling

Dramatic dashcam footage captured the moment the vehicle rolled. Photo: @kirristammers/TikTok.

In response to Region’s questions on the safety measures implemented by NSW Police to minimise risk to the public on Thursday, a spokesperson said: “Each case is individual, and a robust risk assessment is conducted prior to the deployment of a tyre-deflation device. Tyre-deflation devices are only deployed by trained officers.”

While NSW Police declared that they would “not be divulging methodology on standard operating procedures”, the Stop Stick training manual for law enforcement is explicit in its warnings “to choose a suitable and safe location for deployment” that avoids endangering “you, other officers, the public, and the suspect”.

It warns that a driver may lose control of the vehicle and crash, “resulting in SERIOUS or FATAL INJURIES”, adding that “suspects can abruptly swerve, stop, or otherwise manoeuvre their vehicle in an unexpected manner while attempting to avoid STOP STICK”, as occurred on Thursday.

In this instance, the driver survived the accident with only minor injuries and was arrested in the backyard of a nearby residence.

Dr McGirr acknowledged the challenges faced by police in situations such as this but said he intended to raise the matter with the incoming Police Minister.

“We don’t know the full story and obviously all of that has to be taken into account, but I will be following up with the Police Minister to make sure that it’s examined,” he confirmed.

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