Car chases by police: how many escape?

The car chase is a staple of TV, and villains being chased by police make up a large part of that. But how many get away? On TV they extol the police ability to call in extra resources, particularly helicopters, but while it makes for exciting TV, such resources must be limited.

A lot more than you think. Those police chase shows that air Saturday nights on FOX never show the ones that get away. The police don’t release videos that show them in a bad light, and believe that airing programs like this will give off the impression that nobody ever gets away.

A friend of mine who is a trooper with the Virginia State Police says it’s not uncommon on certain stretches of highway. According to him there has been a few incidents in which guys will zoom past troopers running radar and they’re going so fast that by the time the trooper can pull out and start accelerating the person is gone, usually getting off one of the next exits (at least this is assumed.)

He mentions one motorcyclist in particular who is known in the area as a “habitual speeder” who is regularly seen going 140 mph +, on a motorcycle with no plates.

Problem with a guy going that fast is no vehicle the state police have can get up to that speed anywhere near fast enough to do anything about it.

Not being able to get up to speed is a serious issue in this situation.
Solid performance stats on interceptors are linked here:,1607,7-123--16274--,00.html

Standard cruisers are going to take most of mile to match speeds with a vehicle going 120 or so… which means they’re starting the actual chase from 1.5 miles behind. [1]
Do the math on how long you’d need to run a Crown Vic at 129 in order to catch a car going 120, given a 1.5 mile head start.
Assume your speeder is willing to stop once he can actually see the cop with lights on when the cop is 1/2 mile back. It’s still not quick.
Of course, I’m not saying that a 120 MPH speeder is a likely scenario, and certainly doesn’t happen every day to every cop. Similar but less severe principles apply to slightly lower speeds.
If your subject turns off of the road before you manage to make up that much speed and without running into other vehicles you’ve called for assistance, they may get caught, but you won’t be the one doing the catching.
The big factors keeping this scenario rare are the fact that few roads will permit anyone those speeds, either due to traffic or curves.
Traffic tickets would be a real bitch to hand out if all the speeders were going that fast… [2]

[1] Okay, the Charger can make 120 in half a mile. Probably be a good traffic enforcement vehicle, too, if Chrysler can get total cost of ownership down. Historically Dodge trucks have given state fleets fits with reliability issues, and I fear that their cars are less reliable than their trucks.
[2] You’d probably want a second cop down the road to signal the drivers, or if you were very lazy, perhaps a roadside sign you could turn off and on by remote.

And this is just anecdotal, but I believe I read an article back in '01 about a local police chase.
Hudson, OH I believe. A guy on a scanner overheard two cops arguing about whether or not the subject vehicle had actually violated any traffic laws, then heard the beginning of a chase. The lead cop, who lacked any probable cause for a stop anyway according to the other cop involved in the chase, managed to wreck his car. The subject got away.
So, it happens. It probably happens more often when the police manage to wreck one of their own cars.
Anyone remember the episode of cops where the one cop in a Caprice was screaming like a little girl when [1] he managed to provoke some serious oversteer? Spun the car a solid 360 or more, but he still managed to catch the bad guy, which was amazing.

[1] The mid-90s Caprice was a neat car, but when you drove them fast, they did make you cognizant of their willingness to kill you for your mistakes. The Crown Vic from the same error would let you kill yourself by driving too fast, but the Caprice acted like it was looking forward to it…

One of the many great lines from the movie The Gumball Rally

In the first actual real life Cannonball Baker Sea to Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash Dan Gurney was driving a Ferrari though Arizona at somewhere between two and three times the legal limit. A highway patrolman was getting out of his car, to go to breakfast, and heard them go by. He got in his car and gave pursuit. IIRC the Ferrari stopped for gas about 20 minutes later, and that is when the officer caught up with them and issued a cite. He had never seen the car during the entire chase.
In town, if you can either get on a hilly windy section where the cops are not familiar with the roads, and you are, you have a shot, also if you can lose them quickly before the cavalry arrives you have a much better chance. If you wait until a copter gets involved, you are pretty much screwed.

A guy that used to live next door to some friends of mine was involved in a high-speed car chase that spanned two counties. He initially got away on foot; but then they caught him with a police dog.

Googled “police chase escape statistics” and numbers were none existent. According to the New York Times police do not keep statistics on escapes. Another site said 40% of chases result in crashes so the OP’s sought after figure would be less than 60%.

The very best find was a man on a horse and cart that escaped police.

Did your site say that the crashes involve the subject or the pursuit?
In many ways, chasing somebody is riskier than being chased. The subject can pick his path, and in some cases pursuit has a choice between backing up from the subject or turning a corner where pursuit really can’t know if it’s safe to turn[1].

[1] Incidentally, if you wind up having to engage in over the road pursuit, remember to always take the outside line-- it gives you a better view of the road ahead. I hope all of our resident Doper Cops learned that in cop school, but if you didn’t, now you know… and I suggest reading Bondurant’s book on the topic.

That’s just priceless. I’m still laughing.


A friend of the family was a BMW motorcycle dealer. In the wee hours of one morning he was taking one of the newest models home, and decided to open it up on the suburban streets of my hometown. He was going 100+ MPH when he realized he had blown past a local police cruiser. He was quite a ways down the boulevard when he saw the police lights in his mirror, and pulled over to the curb.

The op eventually caught up to where he had stopped, and asked: “Why did you stop? There’s no way I could have ever caught you.” He replied that he was a law-abiding guy who stopped when he saw police lights. The officer just laughed and tole him to go home – but more slowly.

I’ve had that happen to me in my Charger. The cop said, “I’m going to let you go, even though it took me three miles to catch you!” :cool:

From my street and track experience I’d say chasing somebody is safer than being chased. The driver of the following car can see the lines taken by the leading car and make the appropriate corrections. This is especially important at night on poorly lit roads.

Also the leading driver (if inexperienced) will feel psychological pressure to lose the following car and in many cases will take a corner too fast and lose control. This is assuming that the two cars are close together. The opposite can happen when the following car is left far behind and tries to catch on.

I have known a few people to get away. I have even known someone to get away from a HELICOPTER! He was involved in the whole street racing scene and one night well they were street racing and cops came. I dont know what happened to the other guy but this guy took off with the cops behind him. The police already had a helicopter in the air so it seems the whole street racing bust was planned ahead of time. Anyways he gunned it to the airport and the helicopter had to break off. The cars backed off of him. Probably because they didnt want to cause any accidents and just wanted the helo to follow him.

I was in a Caprice or Crown Vic (can’t remember which) about 15 years ago going 140mph, so assuming the speedometer was close they will at least go that fast.

A relative of mine claims to have played cat and mouse with an officer on West Virginia mountain roads many times, never got caught. Good story, not sure how true it is though.

A few years back the Caprice could make it to right around 140 MPH under ideal conditions and if you had the right final drive ratio.
The Crown Vic from the same era had about 50 less horsepower, and you were doing real good if you could get it much past 125.

Hilarious. Thanks for sharing.

The discussion here seems to focus on how many drivers get away once the officer decides to give chase, and I think this ignores the fact that many departments policies’ on pursuits are a lot more restrictive than SpikeTV would indicate.

I remember in a middle school DARE class somone asked a local police officer about high speed chases. He told us pretty straightforwardly that the department usually wouldn’t follow dedicated runners because a high speed chase over what was probably some deadbeat with a suspended license was far more dangerous than it was worth. They would just record the plates and take note.*

Of course internal policies on this aren’t exactly something most PDs want to broadcast (for obvious reasons), but here are a couple articles about departments reconsidering pursuits:

*This was in suburban Boston if it matters