What is a Police Car Chase?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A police chase is the pursuit of a suspect by law enforcement officials. If a suspect uses a vehicle in an attempt to evade apprehension, law enforcement officers are authorized to use their own vehicles to track and stop the suspect. Each law enforcement agency has its own policies about where and when such chases are appropriate, and these policies must be considered before initiating pursuit of a suspect.

Officers are only allowed to pursue a vehicle if a crime is serious or poses a threat to public safety.
Officers are only allowed to pursue a vehicle if a crime is serious or poses a threat to public safety.

In a police chase, the suspect may violate laws to avoid being stopped. This includes breaking the speed limit, not stopping at lights and stop signs, going down a street the wrong way, or performing other illegal traffic maneuvers. The pursuers in the police chase must execute similar maneuvers to catch up, although they are required to consider the safety of bystanders when they do so. By law, they are excused from liability for these actions as it is recognized that they may need to break the law to catch a suspect.

The suspect in a police chase may violate laws to avoid being stopped.
The suspect in a police chase may violate laws to avoid being stopped.

Officers can use a number of techniques to attempt to stop a suspect who is fleeing by car. Some suspects will pull over, which is the safest and most efficient way to effect a stop. Others may be blocked by police cars, which force them to stop. Barriers can be established to force people to stop or to damage tires so that a car cannot be driven any further. Police officers may also be able to ram vehicles in order to force them to a stop. Law enforcement officers receive specialized training in stopping people safely and effectively.

Department policies on police chases usually set out the types of crimes for which such chases are merited to address concerns about the safety and expense of police chases. Officers may only be allowed to pursue by vehicle if a crime is serious in nature or a suspect poses a threat to public safety. They are also required to consider factors which may complicate a police chase. This includes weather conditions, traffic, the presence of crowds, and the area in which the chase is occurring. If bystanders would be put at unreasonable risk by a police chase, it may not be authorized.

Police chases often attract the attention of the media and the public. News agencies may follow the chase in order to report on it, and in some cities police car chases may be aired live on television. While members of the public may find such events interesting, they are also dangerous, and it is not a good idea to attempt to follow or intercept a police chase.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


This article mentions several of the ways police officers stop and catch people who are running from them in cars. Another way they stop criminals in cars is they lay spikes across the road and flatten the tires of the cars they are after. This is safer for the officers than trying to ram other cars.


@Sporkasia - I don't see why a police chase is worse than some of the other things we see on TV. TV has violence, sex, profanity and everything else, so it might as well have police car chases. At least these are real and they show us more about what is happening in the real world.


I still can't believe that news stations actually carry the high speed police chases live on TV. This seems like irresponsible journalism to me. In situations like that, you never know what is going to happen, and someone could easily get injured or killed. Is this something that we need to see live on our TV screens?

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