Police weigh enforcement, safety when fast cars flee

By: Brian Louwers | Metro | Published March 8, 2021

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METRO DETROIT — They’re fast, the risks of reckless driving should make everyone furious, and the law is the law.  

But what are the police to do when the operator of a performance ride is caught racing or, when pulled over for a minor moving violation, opts to bolt in a high-powered and potentially deadly machine?

“Safety is paramount in those situations,” Capt. Lawrence Garner of the Warren Police Department’s Patrol Division said. “We’re not out there to run the Daytona 500. You’ve got to be smarter sometimes instead of quicker.”

If you monitor the news, a police scanner or social media pages dedicated to them, you’ll see Dodge Chargers and Challengers mentioned among the new breed of muscle cars favored by lead-footed drivers running red lights or trying to outrun the police during traffic stops. But not all of those encounters end in a ticket or an arrest, at least not right away.

“Obviously, we react to each situation on its own merit,” Garner said.

The importance of apprehending a violent felon, for example, would require a more aggressive pursuit, whereas pursuing a driver who simply flees a traffic stop out of fear must be tempered against the inherent safety risks of a high-speed chase in traffic.

“We don’t know why the person’s running. It’s one of the things we take into account,” Garner said.

Other factors include time of day and traffic volume, and road conditions.

“We don’t like pursuits any more than the public likes it. As always, the welfare of the citizens is of utmost importance,” Garner said.

A report about a pack of Chargers and Challengers traveling 90 mph north on Hoover from Eight Mile Road to westbound Interstate 696 on Feb. 22 was a clear case of reckless driving, Garner said, but another incident involving a Charger was linked to a possible breaking and entering suspect.

“It’s just a mix. That’s why they all have to be treated on an individual basis,” Garner said.

Police supervisors monitor all pursuits and, along with the pursuing officers, have the authority to terminate a chase if the circumstances warrant.

“Because of the risk that’s involved to the general public, along with the officers, we don’t just want to pursue anything at any time, at any cost,” Garner added.    

Michigan State Police Lt. Michael Shaw, public information officer for the agency in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, said he hasn’t seen an increase in reckless driving or street racing reports since issues surfaced in Detroit last summer. In July, the Detroit Police Department announced the creation of a “drifting and drag racing task force” after several people were injured.

“We used to have pre-pandemic problems on bike nights in Royal Oak but not lately,” Shaw said in a response to an inquiry on Feb. 26.

Less than 24 hours later, a release from the Michigan State Police Metro South Post announced the arrest of a driver in a Charger who was allegedly traveling 155 mph in a 55-mph zone on the northbound Lodge Freeway, near Eight Mile Road.

Reckless driving is a six-point violation and a misdemeanor punishable by up to 93 days in jail, a fine of up to $500 or both. Those penalties increase, however, and become felonies if the action results in serious injury or death. Conviction in such cases could result in sentences ranging from a maximum five to 15 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

Garner said drivers who witness an act of reckless driving, including excessive speed, should seek to minimize the risk of becoming involved in a crash by moving to or staying in the right lane if that can be done safely. He said drivers should also be wary of a potential police pursuit in progress if they observe a speeding vehicle.