Lessons from the land of the high-speed chase

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SHINY SIDE UP Ben Kritz

SHINY SIDE UP
Ben Kritz

AMERICA leads the world in many dubious motoring categories – after all, we’re the civilization that invented monster trucks, drive-through funeral parlors, and those little cardboard air fresheners shaped like pine trees – one of the more questionable of which is the dangerous and ill-advised (although admittedly, somewhat entertaining) activity known as the high-speed chase.

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It must be stressed, of course, that one should never run from the police. Not only will you put yourself and others at grave risk of bodily harm; the act itself is considered a serious crime, for good reason, turning what might have been just a friendly reminder to slow it down a bit or get that burned-out taillight bulb replaced into a couple months in jail and a hefty fine. And your chances of successfully evading arrest are realistically less than zero, as I learned during an interesting training session some years ago conducted by the Wyoming Highway Patrol.

I found myself in the company of the fine officers of the Cowboy State as a result of a bit of misbehavior on my part. I had been on a long road trip in a car built for speed – a BMW M5 – to deliver the vehicle to a customer in Salt Lake City. The weather was good, the road was clear, and being quite a bit more qualified than the average driver, I considered the posted speed limit of 75 mph (120 kph) just a suggestion.

Somewhere in the empty land west of Laramie, I crested a rise along the highway and just noticed as I flashed past it a sinister-looking black car half-hidden in a turnout along the road. As I flew down the long slope of the other side of the hill, I instinctively glanced at my speedometer – just over 100 mph (160 kph) – and glanced in the rear-view mirror. Sure enough, the black car, completely unmarked except for two small red and blue lights now blinking in its lower grill, had emerged from its hiding place and was catching up at an alarming rate of speed.

The police car, as I would learn later, was a heavily-modified late model Pontiac Firebird, one of a couple units used by the Wyoming Highway Patrol to put some respect for traffic laws into jokers like me. I had no intention of not stopping, of course, but I could not resist trying to see, if only for a moment or two, what that impressive machine coming up behind me was capable of, since I was behind the wheel of one that, in its time, could outrun anything else with four doors on it and most things with two. “I’ll just say I was looking for a safe spot to pull over,” I told myself, and put my right foot to the floor.

It was no contest. We hit 144 mph (230 kph) – the electronically-limited speed on the M5 – with the Firebird on my back bumper as though it was glued to it, and giving every indication that it had lot left if I wanted to dare challenge it. Signaling by flashing my lights that I was giving up, I pulled into a lay-by and stopped, waiting for what I was sure was going to be an unpleasant encounter.

After the officer, Sgt. Johnson, made the necessary checks that I was not driving a stolen car or was otherwise a dangerous fugitive, and issued me a rather emphatic request to please not drive faster than the posted speed limit on his highway, the interaction turned into mutual admiration of each other’s machines; Sgt. Johnson had never seen an M5, and I of course had never seen a police Firebird, which was equipped with, among other things, a supercharged 455 V8 and a six-speed sequential transmission.

One thing led to another, and Sgt. Johnson invited me to visit one of the Highway Patrol’s “pursuit and interception” training sessions, held at a disused airstrip near the state capital of Cheyenne, which I did a couple weeks later. The Highway Patrol, as do many police departments in the US, conducts regular training and practice sessions for its officers in pursuing and stopping fleeing motorists, and when one sees them in action, one understands the futility of trying to outrun the police. Most of the time is spent on practicing basic handling through exercises liked timed runs through a slalom course or around a short road course littered with various obstacles. As most of the department’s patrol cars were large, heavy Ford Crown Victoria sedans – fast in a straight line, but about as maneuverable as the average bulldozer – the skills demonstrated by the officers were impressive to say the least.

The highlight of the session was practice in the PIT (Precision Immobilization Technique) maneuver, wherein a pursuing patrol car uses its front corner to knock the rear of a fleeing car sideways, causing it to spin and stop. Two battered Fords – they had obviously been used for the exercise many, many times – were pitted against each other on a straight stretch of road, with the officers taking turns pursuing and being pursued. I was given a turn as well, accompanied by an instructor; I was not very good at getting the car I was chasing to stop, but I was able to recover from and escape an attempt to stop me, thanks to my race car driving training.

Not much of that experience is much use here in the Philippines, where most police still rely on a sturdy pair of shoes to get around, and high speed driving means being able to exceed about 60 kph, but some of the lessons, such as how to stop or maneuver quickly to avoid obstacles in a car not really designed to be nimble, have come in handy. The biggest lesson, of course, is applicable anywhere in the world: If the police signal their intent to stop you, doing anything but stopping, whether or not you think it’s fair, will be a losing proposition for you. Pull it over and be polite; unless you’re already a dangerous criminal, the police will likely appreciate your contributing to keeping the roads a little more orderly.

ben.kritz@manilatimes.net

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