In Hot Pursuit

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Q: In the early evening, a police officer was sitting in his patrol car. He observed a van that fish-tailed and squealed its tires while making a turn. The officer decided to follow it. In response, the driver speeded through a stop sign. The officer activated his red lights. The van pulled away. The officer turned on his siren. The van drove into a lane for oncoming traffic and ran a red light. Then it collided with my car.

A: Under the Vehicle and Traffic Law, the police officer is permitted to proceed past red traffic lights and stops signs, exceed the speed limit and disregard regulations regarding the direction of traffic – as long as she is not reckless. As long as she has not acted in reckless disregard for the safety of others, then her conduct in pursuing a suspected lawbreaker may not form the basis of civil liability to an injured third party, like you. The duties of police officers and other emergency personnel often bring them into conflict with the rules and laws that are intended to regulate citizens’ daily conduct. Consequently, where necessary to carry out their important responsibilities, police officers and the like are afforded a partial privilege to disregard those laws. Emergency personnel must routinely make conscious choices that will necessarily escalate the over-all risk to the public at large. So long as she is not reckless, the operator of an emergency vehicle is free to perform her duties unhampered by the precisely normal rules of the road. Split-second decisions must be made in the field under highly pressured conditions. In order to save life or property or to apprehend miscreants, emergency personnel are permitted to act decisively and to take calculated risks. Having observed erratic and dangerous driving on the part of the van driver, the officer was duty-bound to investigate, using all reasonable means, including pursuit, to stop the lawless vehicle’s forward progress. The conduct the officer observed was far more serious than whatever minor traffic infractions she may have committed. Under these circumstances, the officer had the right to use whatever means are necessary – short of recklessness – to overtake and stop the offending driver.

By: Scott Baron,
Attorney at Law Advertorial

The law responds to changed conditions; exceptions and variations abound. Here, the information is general; always seek out competent counsel. This article shall not be construed as legal advice.

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