High speed police chases. Let's talk about this a minute.
It's certainly a timely subject, because hot pursuit has killed both a chaser and a chasee in Central Virginia so far this year -- a sheriff's deputy in Campbell County, a 21-year-old driving without a license in Bedford.
And the obvious question has to be: Were these pursuits that ultimately turned tragic really necessary in the first place?
For better or worse, vehicular pursuit has become embedded in our culture -- what would an action movie be without at least one car chase? Perhaps because of that, it's something many men (and, increasingly, women) fantasize about.
In real life, though, who are the people most likely to put the pedal to the metal and try to flee the cops?
1. They could be a dangerous criminal, someone on the FBI's Most Wanted List. A rapist, a terrorist, an armed robber. They could be, but it's highly unlikely -- this is a big country, and there aren't enough dangerous criminals on the lam to go around.
2. They could be fleeing from the scene of a crime, like a bank heist. Still unlikely.
3. They could be driving a stolen car. Now, we're getting more into the neighborhood of probability.
4. They could be driving on a suspended license, or unwilling to acquire the extra points that might get their license suspended.
5. They could be drunk.
The last category is the one I find most disturbing.
Let's consider this. You've got a person the police are trying to catch because they feel he is a danger to other motorists. So what sense does it make to then force this person -- whose depth perception, vision and judgement may already be impaired -- to drive at higher and higher speeds?
That's what happened when a drunk driver slammed head-on into a car containing the Barrick family on Waterlick Road a few months back.
My position on this is that I am a fellow traveler on the public highways (the Barrick accident happened on a road I drive every day). Sure, it makes me uncomfortable to think of wasted drivers sharing those highways with me, but the thought of a wasted driver going 100 miles an hour ups the ante considerably.
When you put the worst case scenarios side-by-side, it goes something like this:
If the police let the person go, the worst case scenario is that he or she will escape to drive drunk, or on a suspended license, another day.
If the police instigate a chase, the worst case scenario is that someone dies.
There are exceptions, naturally. The police are almost obligated to pursue a fleeing robber, or a criminal believed to be a public menace. But in the case of the ordinary citizen with a less-than-ordinary driving record, chances are the in-car camera has already snapped a photo of the license plate and videotaped the fleeing car. True, it's not as exciting to go by the person's home or place of work the next day to make the arrest, but it's probably a lot safer. And innocent people don't get hurt.
Based on events such as have happened in Central Virginia this year, localities all over the U.S. have decided that routinely embarking on these 90-mph thrill rides simply isn't worth the risk.
To me, that only makes sense.