It's 6 p.m., and the evening news on nearly every channel is covering another police chase through the freeways and suburbs of Southern California. Some intellectually challenged fugitive in a stolen vehicle mistakenly believes that he can outrun and evade the half-dozen law enforcement vehicles pursuing him, while at least three or four news choppers are filming every horrifying maneuver he makes.
He weaves in between the unwary commuters on the freeways at hair-raising speeds and narrowly misses car after car. He recklessly speeds through countless intersections, seemingly oblivious to the cars that spin out and swerve to avoid colliding with him. Without hesitation, he crashes over center dividers to drive callously and frantically on the wrong side of the road, terrifying the unsuspecting drivers who are forced to take harrowing evasive action. fter 20 or 30 minutes of sideswipes and near misses, the bad guys might be brought down by tires that spark wildly as they are run down to the rims, or ambushed by police laid spike-strips.
Sometimes they are cornered outside of their vehicles and made to lie prone on the road as the cameras above capture their final humiliation. Other times they jump from their vehicles and futilely attempt to outrun their fate. In the end, it always seems that the outcome is the same. The bad guys lose. But there are other losses that the 6 o'clock news does not always cover. What about those drivers who were involved in collisions or run off the road during this melee? People may have been injured or killed during the pursuits, and their stories are often left untold.
As of 2006, a new law says that those who choose to use a vehicle to evade police will have a much bigger price to pay than in previous years. And if someone is killed or injured during their flights, the penalties will be severe.
Senate Bill 719 stiffened the punishment for evading police. Instead of spending a maximum of six months in a county jail, suspects who run from police in a vehicle will spend up to a year in the county lockup. And the 15 minutes of fame those who run from the law in a vehicle may gain from their brief TV exposure may not be worth the three, five or seven years of imprisonment they could now face should anyone be injured during their flights. And anyone who kills someone while fleeing police can look forward to calling the state prison their new home for the next four, six or ten years.
Bad guys will always use vehicles to try to outrun the law. But the next time we turn on the news and see another clueless criminal endangering the lives of countless strangers, at least we will know that when he is caught, as we know he will be, he will be made to think about his actions for a long, long time.
Michelle Groh-Gordy is the owner of InterActive! Traffic School Online at http://www.trafficinteractive.com, and writes a syndicated weekly column on driving for the publications of the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.