Law Enforcement Vehicle Chase Quesiton

When someone is evading police in a motor vehicle, why don’t the police just shoot the evading vehicle in the radiator? With just about any ICE-powered vehicle, a 0.22 round in the radiator will result in the engine stopping within 4 or 5 miles, perhaps less if the vehicle is being driven hard.

I have wondered this after seeing footage of the famous “low-speed chase” of the white Bronco in 1994 (OJ Simpson). Several years later, I remember a situation in Houston, TX, where someone stole an 18-wheeler and led police on a chase that lasted for hours, through 3 counties, well over 100 miles. In both of these instances, a single rifle shot would have ended the situation with very little danger to the public and in a manner that would allow the police to maintain control of the situation.

Yeah, I know that since the OJ chase, they have developed spike strips and their use is popular, but they are not always effective. A decent marksman with a precision .22 rifle ought to be able hit the radiator with a high level of confidence, then just follow since the coolant is going drain in a minute, perhaps two. Once the coolant is gone, another couple of minutes and it will stop. Chances are, the driver isn’t even going to know what is wrong, only that he’s stopping. Even if he is paying attention and figures out exactly what is going on, there isn’t much he can do about it.

A quick google shows that lengthy chases are fairly common in almost every state, but I haven’t heard of this tactic being used.

There are quite a few reasons why. Police encounter a multitude of problems. “Shoot until its not a problem” should be employed rarely. Police chase training generally mandates being as safe as possible, even calling it off and letting them escape if capture might endanger civilians.

Shooting the engine block of an unpredictable moving vehicle requires a level of marksmanship that very few cops have. The coast guard puts considerable effort into training snipers for this exact task, and they consider it only after every other option has been exhausted.

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  1. Given most cars have the radiator in the front, it’s very hard to hit it if you’re chasing it.
  2. Even if there’s another cop up ahead with his gun drawn, hitting a fast moving target, with a pistol, is tough to do. Aim just a little bit high & you’ve now killed someone in the vehicle. If it’s the driver, the car now careens into another car/pedestrians on a sidewalk/thru a business’s plate glass window; I’m sure the police/municipality would have (financial) liability for those innocent civilians injuries or deaths.

It’s much easier to PIT the car when an officer deems it safe enough to have it spin out & not injure innocent people.

Even PIT maneuvers are not particularly safe, either, without a lot of evasive driving training, and not suitable in many circumstances regardless of skill. Most police departments don’t authorize the use of the PIT manuever unless the suspect represents an immediate threat to the public.

As Spiderman notes, shooting a vehicle at high speed is not an easy task; the shooter would have to be positioned in such a manner as to be able to target the vehicle from the front, and a miss or richochet could result in injury to an uninvolved part. Also, the assumption by the o.p. that a quarter inch hole in the radiator “will result in the engine stopping in 4 or 5 miles” just isn’t true. Depending on how fast the car is going and the ambient temperature, the engine could continue operating for tens of miles before it seizes up due to overheating. I’ve driven a vehicle with a broken fan belt over twenty miles on a hilly road (with all accessories turned off and watching the temp gauge the entire way) with no ill effects other than needing to jump start due to the battery being depleted.


Well, let’s line up the scenario. You have a bunch of police cars chasing the perp. Somehow, you have to get a car in front, and keep it in front. Do you think the perp won’t weave, jump the curb or whatever?

Next you have to have a sharpshooter cop with a rifle in the car in front. Let’s just magically put one in there and move on to. . .

The cop has to somehow aim at a car behind him that’s probably weaving, changing speeds, or otherwise behaving erratically; hold steady long enough; and then get off a shot that hits in an area of about 2’ x 3’. Should the cop lean out of a side window? Shoot right through the back window of his own car? Stand up through the sunroof that the cop car happens to be equipped with?

Suppose the first shot happens to miss? Now there’s a long-rifle round flying through the air. Maybe it will hit the bad guy’s headlight. Maybe it will hit one of the cop cars pursuing the bad guy. Maybe it will leave the right-of-way, go through the window of a building adjoining the highway and hit a potted plant. Who knows? That’s the adventure in firing a high velocity round from an unstable platform.

And if the first shot doesn’t do the job, how many more times do you want to shoot?

The Op’s intentions are noble but their method is ludicrous.

It would have to be a 2 man squad, overtaking the fleeing vehicle and one of the officers firing behind from a vehicle not designed for such an operation. In most jurisdictions the discharge of a firearm in this manner is considered lethal force. If such force is justified then, as mentioned, a Pit maneuver would be better.

Keep in mind that the solution to fleeing vehicles has been available for over 30 years, since the introduction of GPS was put into service. When I first heard about this back in the 80’s I thought for sure it would be incorporated into new vehicles. I was dead wrong.

The system involved automobile computers to be programmed so that using a simple laser device to identify a suspect car the vehicles engine could be shut down via satellite while maintaining steering and brakes.

The programming added about $40 to the cost of a car and a few hundred dollars for the small laser device per squad.

Auto manufacturers balked at this, as did civil libertarians and even some law enforcement groups. The use of such a device would be construed a seizure and police would need probable cause to use it.

Had this system been mandated when it first came out by now more than 99% of the vehicles on the road today would have it and high speed pursuits would be almost non-existent!

I can see a couple of problems with that. If the cops could do it, then it’s probably that other people could too; maybe with bad intentions. However it worked, you can be sure that some means of overcoming it would soon be widely available.

Meh. Your concerns are pretty unfounded.

The system is incorporated into the vehicles computer and would be highly technical and difficult to alter. I doubt means to bypass it would be widely available to the general public. Try to buy a traffic light strobe or a radio that operates on police frequencies. And both of those things are easier to get than to have a cars computer reprogrammed.

The squad equipment used to direct the GPS is also sophisticated and it’s sale is restricted. The program uses a set of entrance codes which, if someone were to get a hold of one via the black market, they wouldn’t have, making the equipment useless.

But most importantly, a large percentage of fleeing drivers are in stolen cars. What are the odds that a car thief is going to steal a car that someone, somehow, disabled the program in the computer?

Not understanding your description of how this system was supposed to work. How were the laser, satellite, and GPS systems involved in shutting down the vehicle?

Maybe thieves would plug a laptop into the OBC port and disable the device that way? They probably did that to override the car’s security anyway.

I think the remote shut off was probably more of a VIN based kill command, not unlike many cellular devices have. The wise auto thief carries GPS, Lojack and cellular jamming devices.

There are also spike strips and ensnarement devices available. A lot of chases here in Chicago are terminated due to safety and liability concerns.

amateur drag racers routinely reprogram the computers on their daily drivers for racing with a laptop and then change them back after they’re done racing. It’s trivial and common and easy to program a car with what ever performance parameters you want (within the capabilities of the mechanicals of course) Disabling remote shut down would require something more isolated, but if it can be accessed by satellite, it can be accessed by anyone and altered.

Um, no. You’ve been watching too many movies.

The average pursuit does not involve sophisticated thieves. Mostly it involves a street thug, someone who knows they have a warrant, a kid, or some other low life, none of which have the time, inclination, nor brains to override the system.

I wish I could find the video presentation that the company presented at the conference I went to. The system is set up as to prevent tampering and even prevent the vehicle from running if this particular program is altered.

Be reminded that the average suspect in a pursuit is not some technical minded genius. Many times the vehicles used are “dump cars”. Cars that are stolen, used for a while in crimes, then dumped. These aren’t international master auto thieves ripping Maybachs that are getting in these pursuits.

Pit maneuvers and stingers (spike strips) are all uses of force and still carry risks of death, injury, liability, and massive property damage.

There is a useful tool available but it is only sparingly implemented due to resistance to change. Meanwhile thousands are killed or injured. The refusal to at least try this system to a greater degree is indefensible.

If you’re referring to the satellite/laser/GPS system you mentioned earlier, you said it adds $40 to the cost of each vehicle so equipped. There are about 17 million new cars and light trucks sold per year in the US, so we’d be talking about $680M in extra cost per year.

Police pursuits result in about 350 fatalities per year.[sup]*[/sup] Assuming full implementation of the system you propose saves all of these lives, the cost per life saved is about $19.4M. This is far in excess of the statistical value of a human life (generally $7M-$9M) that is commonly used in making these sorts of decisions. So purely on a cost basis, this system can’t be justified. This may of course change in the future if a cheaper method is devised.

*It’s often mentioned that the number of chase-related fatalities may be higher than is being reported. But even if we double the number, the cost per life saved is still over the $9M threshold.

Even if they didn’t kill the driver, hitting a car in such a way that the driver loses control is likely to cause property damage and loss of life. Most police departments worldwide aren’t in favor of such results.

Both of my parents were killed when fleeing criminals T-boned their car in an intersection at over 80 mph. You tell a 16-year old girl that the lives of her parents weren’t “statistically valuable enough” to save. I want YOU to do it IN PERSON. I want you to look into her heartbroken eyes and tell her that!

I’m conservative with respect to giving the police additional powers, but I’m with pkbites here. Operating a motor vehicle on public roads is a privilege, one of the requirements is to stop when a police officer tells you to pull over. Forcing the police to use physical instead of informational methods to stop the car simply puts people in danger.

My followup concern is what level of visibility this tool would give police in regards to vehicle location, whether they can remotely disable the car of a “known fugitive” or someone with an open warrant. If the system is limited to in-person, on the street encounters, I’m ok, but if it goes beyond that capability, it’s time to tread carefully.

I’m sorry for what you went through; I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. But it is a fact of life that we have limited resources, and that makes it necessary to set a limit on how much we are willing to spend to save a life, lest we go broke trying to save absolutely everyone. This isn’t my idea either, so don’t shoot the messenger: this is how federal agencies like the EPA, FAA, and NHTSA make decisions regarding new regulations.

I would not expect a 16YO girl who just lost her parents to react well to this idea, and I would never be so callous as to bring it up while she’s reeling in grief. But I would expect a rational adult to accept it as just one more unpleasant facet of reality - or, if one finds it unacceptable, propose an alternative method for determining how much we as a society should spend to save a life.

Check your math; you’re off a decimal. $680mil / 350 = $1.942 million /person.

:smack: Too many zeroes to count on my calculator screen. Sorry.

Well, that certainly removes the cost argument.