Louise Haigh called for a review of police driving laws after officers were warned by the Police Federation not to carry out emergency manoeuvres that would be illegal for any other “careful and competent” driver.
The federation has called for the law to be changed after rulings that the police should be held to the same rules as other motorists, with the exception of the speed limit, even though they are trained to a higher level. Police are allowed to ignore road traffic signals, such as red lights, if this does not endanger anyone, but there are legal concerns that this exemption is meaningless because driving a vehicle on a road always carries a risk of danger.
Writing for the Guardian, Haigh said that without changes to the law the government risked “handing over our streets to criminals”.
“[Officers] should be assessed based on their special training and circumstances, not compared to how you and I might normally drive. That, in turn, requires legislative change and for the government to stop dragging its feet,” said Haigh, who is a member of Diane Abbott’s shadow Home Office team.
“We need to have confidence that the police will enforce the law. The police need to have confidence that the law itself allows them to do so. If we don’t tackle this we will hand our streets over to criminals and it will be the poorest communities that will suffer the most.”
She said officers were at significant risk if prosecuted because their driving behaviour would be assessed on the same basis as any “competent and careful driver”; there were no specific exemptions for emergency manoeuvres beyond “disapplying” the speed limit.
“That is hampering the ability of the police to apprehend very serious offenders and take them off the streets. Bikers who have progressed well beyond petty #crime into much more serious gang-related activity, to the point where the Met police has now classified #moped-enabled crime as serious organised crime,” Haigh said.
Figures obtained under freedom of information laws show moped-enabled crime has risen 10-fold in London since 2011 to more than 5,000 incidents a year.
In June, the federation warned all of its 120,000 members in 43 force branches that emergency manoeuvres in pursuit of suspects could land them in trouble.
Tim Rogers, the federation board member for roads policing, said: “Legal advice has recently highlighted that police response and pursuit drives are, in most circumstances, highly likely to fall within the definitions of careless and/or dangerous driving. There are no exemptions to the offences of careless or dangerous driving to permit emergency driving … Officers have a sworn duty and must uphold that duty. Officers should drive in a way which is lawful and does not contravene the laws of dangerous or careless driving. Officers are advised not to undertake any manoeuvre which may well fall outside the standard of the careful and competent non-police driver.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “All emergency services, including the police, are exempt from speed limit, traffic light and sign violations when undertaking an emergency service response. However, they remain subject to the general law on motoring in the same way as members of the public – including the law on careless and dangerous driving. Decisions on the management of pursuits and response driving are an operational matter for forces.”