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Prehosp Emerg Care. 2007 Jul-Sep;11(3):278-83.

A review of police pursuit fatalities in the United States from 1982-2004.

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  • 1Department of Emergency Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA 02114, USA.



High-speed police pursuits are common in the United States (US). Most states do not gather statistics on police pursuits, pursuit crashes, injuries or fatalities for annual review.


The objective of this study is to determine the number of pursuit fatalities to officers, those in the chased vehicle, and those uninvolved in pursuits from 1982-2004.


A review of police pursuit fatalities reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) database from 1982-2004. The data was reviewed for fatalities, demographic data, alcohol involvement, road surface type (rural versus urban) and mechanism of collision leading to a pursuit fatality.


From 1982-2004, 881,733 fatal crashes were reported to NHTSA, leading to 987,523 fatalities. Of fatal crashes, 6,336 (0.7%) were secondary to pursuits, leading to 7,430 (0.8%) fatalities, a mean of 323 per year. Among these fatalities, chased vehicle occupants accounted for 5,355 (72%); police for 81 (1%); those uninvolved for 1994 (27%). Of fatalities, 6074 (82%) were male, 2,092 (28%) were children and adolescents. Mean age of death was 24 years. African-Americans 1,154 (24%) and Native Americans 101 (2%) died at a higher proportion than their percentage of the US population. Collisions with solid objects accounted for 3,175 (59%) of fatalities in the chased vehicles. Collisions with other moving vehicles accounted for 1,434 (80%) of fatalities of vehicular occupants uninvolved in pursuits. Most fatal crashes, 3,130 (62%), occurred on urban roadways. Alcohol was involved in 4,628 (62%) fatalities. Of police fatalities, 20 (25%) were intoxicated.


Police pursuits results in a small yet significant number of fatal motor vehicular crashes and fatalities. All states should record the total number of police pursuits, pursuit crashes, injuries and fatalities for annual review. The findings in this study have important operational implications for EMS care.

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