FEDERAL WAY, Wash. — The Washington State Patrol says nearly a thousand drivers refused to stop on the state’s highways during the first five months of this year.
They are essentially ignoring the troopers’ lights and sirens.
Some blame a new law that stiffened requirements for police to pursue drivers they suspect of doing something wrong.
But those who support the new law say it is saving lives.
The law says the driver must be wanted for something other than, for example, an expired license tab.
In fact, they have to have probable cause to believe a violent felony has been committed or that the driver is seriously impaired.
Since the law went into effect, hundreds of drivers on the state’s highways have apparently kept going when troopers have tried to stop them.
It happened on Memorial Day. Police officers chased a driver through Kent and into Federal Way. It ended with the suspect in custody.
But these pursuits are happening less often because of a new state law.
“We’ve had 934 people between January 1 and May 17 this year statewide that have failed to stop for a traffic,” said Sgt. Darren Wright, a spokesman for the Washington State Patrol.
They are not stopping despite the police lights.
“That’s correct,” said Sgt. Wright.
Sgt. Wright also says troopers aren’t trying to stop fleeing drivers because of the strict new guidelines under House Bill 1054 passed last year.
“The new law says that unless somebody you have probable cause for a violent felony, which is things like murder, rape, armed robbery, things like that,” said Sgt. Wright. “Or we have reasonable suspicion that there is an impairment.”
And even then, a supervisor has to approve the chase.
“What I hadn’t understood before looking into the data was how common this is,” said Dr. Martina Morris.
A statistician, she provided the data for the new law.
“Active vehicle pursuits are the second most common cause of death in police encounters here in Washington State,” said Dr. Morris. “And half of the people killed are bystanders and passengers.”
And it can happen even once police break off the pursuit.
Seventy-four-year-old Robert Mauzay of SeaTac was struck and killed nearly two years ago by a driver still fleeing despite the state trooper having stopped the pursuit.
Dr. Morris calculates that in all 71 people have been killed because of pursuits since 2015 in this state alone.
“The risk is not balanced by the need to apprehend,” said Dr. Morris.
She says in the 12 months before the new law took effect, 11 people died in active vehicle pursuits. Since the new law took effect, just one person – a bystander – has died.
And Sgt. Wright says troopers will continue to follow the law and chase after drivers only if they meet the new criteria.
He says it is a felony to ignore law enforcement’s signal to stop.
©2022 Cox Media Group