Police drivers will receive better protection in the courts thanks to new legislation due in the autumn.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – which started its process through Parliament today – will introduce a new test for police drivers.
The Police Federation of England and Wales’ Tim Rogers explained: “As the law stands, police officers can be prosecuted if they drive outside of norms for a typical driver. We’ve seen too many officers facing years of conduct or criminal investigation for dangerous driving when in reality they had been using their skills and training to do the job they were asked to do. This has now been addressed and the new bill introduces a new test for police drivers.”
Following the introduction of the new law, officers will be regarded as driving dangerously only if the way they drive falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful constable who has undertaken the prescribed training or it would be obvious to such a competent and careful constable that driving in that way would be dangerous.
The Federation now plans to push for consistency in force policy around the country so that officers are not inadvertently exposed to the risk of prosecution.
Tim added: “All police drivers will have to drive and perform tactics exactly as they have been trained. Your average motorist probably never drives exactly as they did on their test but that is not an option for police drivers.
“The training is there for a reason. Driving a car at speed or contrary to any road signs or restrictions in place comes at a risk and that risk is only mitigated by officers following their training to the letter.”
He added: “As the Bill progresses through the various stages of becoming law, we have to ensure that there is close scrutiny of the wording of the new legislation. The current wording will see officers’ driving assessed according to the standard of the careful and competent police driver and could serve to criminalise breaches of driving policy.”
He said this has the potential to see more officers being charged under the very legislation that is being introduced to offer them better legal protection.
“It is impossible for every element of police driving to be covered by policy but any deviance of policy, perhaps simply because a certain tactic is not included in a driver training directory, could lead to a conclusion that a criminal offence has been committed. We need an exemption to cover these matters.
“Police officers simply should not be singled out for criminal prosecution for behaviour which, if it occurred in any other profession, would be a matter for regulation and a civil action.
“Under the current provisions of the Bill, a police driver driving above the standard of the careful and competent member of the public but below that of an elite class of police driver would potentially render themselves liable to criminal prosecution.”
He cited an incident involving a target vehicle being driven the wrong way down a dual carriageway.
There is no provision for this in the Approved Professional Practice or the TAC directory and could lead to an officer being charged with a criminal offence. Mr Rogers said there has to be an acceptance that officers are expected to react instinctively sometimes in order to protect the public.
“We need an exemption to the offence to be included on the legislation to reflect the fact that there will be occasions where an officer is expected to act outside of their licensed training,” he said.
He is now seeking to raise his concerns with the Policing minister Kit Malthouse.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill legislates to double the maximum sentences for those convicted of assaulting emergency workers in England and Wales to two years and clears the way for Special Constables to formally join the Police Federation.
It will also see the introduction of the Police Covenant.