Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2016 Week 02 Hansard (Thursday, 18 February 2016) . . Page.. 602 ..
Today I introduce the Road Transport Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 to the Assembly. Despite its rather innocuous title this bill forms a key part of a crucial road safety reform for the ACT. The reform will change the way that police pursuits take place in the ACT—that is, it changes the circumstances under which ACT Policing will pursue a fleeing vehicle. In conjunction with the introduction of this bill ACT Policing will implement a revised and limited police pursuit protocol.
The policy provides that police will no longer pursue drivers unless it is necessary to prevent a serious risk to public health or safety or an offence has been committed or is about to be committed which involves serious injury to or death of a person. This is a significant change from the current police guidelines on pursuits. Under the existing guideline police conduct an average of 8.5 pursuits per month in the ACT. The overwhelming reason for a pursuit being initiated is the commission of a traffic offence. These are offences such as failing to stop or having an obscured registration plate.
The new policy, as I said, means police will only pursue drivers if it is necessary to prevent a serious risk to public health or safety or an offence has been committed or is about to be committed which involves serious injury to or death of a person. It embraces a commitment to harm minimisation. It will see pursuits occur rarely and only in the most serious situations. As the ACT’s road safety minister, in a jurisdiction with a clear and ongoing commitment to the vision zero road safety philosophy, nothing gives me greater pleasure than to say that this is a reform that will significantly improve road safety and prevent injuries and deaths on our roads.
The fact is that police pursuits create a high risk of death or injury. They involve a highly skilled police officer pursuing another driver who is generally not skilled and not trained to drive at high speed around other traffic, vulnerable road users, pedestrians and other hazards. Nationally, between 2000 and 2011 there has been an average of 15 crashes and 18 deaths each year related to police pursuits. In the ACT since 2004 there have been nine people killed in crashes related to police pursuits. The people that passed away in these tragic circumstances were Benjamin Hayes, Clea Rose, Heather Freeman, Brody Oppelaar, Scott Oppelaar, Samantha Ford, Justin Williams, Linda Cox and Tim Smith-Brown. All of these deaths have been tragic and have had a devastating ripple effect through the community, as is the case with all road trauma.
As well as these deaths, there have been many other injuries related to pursuits, many of them also tragically life changing. The most recent incident in Kambah last year resulted in a death but it also severely injured a couple who were driving another vehicle. A family member said that their lives were turned upside down in an instant. Their injuries included shattered bones and collapsed lungs, resulted in surgeries and time spent in intensive care. It is fair to say their lives will never be the same.
It is incumbent on us to find ways to minimise the risk of these terrible outcomes. We must reduce or eliminate risk in the road environment. This is the only way for the ACT to achieve vision zero. Vision zero aims for zero deaths on ACT roads. It prioritises human life and health.