Each day in London, an average of 12 road traffic accidents take place involving vehicles belonging to the Metropolitan Police, according to figures obtained by the Daily Mail, resulting in the deaths of 22 people, including five pedestrians and one cyclist, during the past three years.
The fatality is presumably 16-year-old Khaleel Khan, who died after being hit by a police car as he cycled across a pedestrian crossing in June 2009, but there have also been other cyclists seriously injured in the capital in incidents also involving police cars.
In March last year, a former Guardian journalist, Donald MacLeod, spent six weeks in a coma and is still in hospital after being hit in Islington by a police car on its way to investigate a shooting.
While the figures need to be treated with some caution, since they cover all types of accident, starting with minor damage caused to police vehicles as a result of brushing against the kerb, some trends are evident, including the fact that while the number of incidents involving Metropolitan Police is in decline, the number of fatalities is on the rise.
The number of accidents taking place dropped from 4,635 in the 2007/08 financial year to 4,128 in 2008/09 and 3,886 in 2009/10, but the number of fatalities is on the rise, standing at five, seven and ten for those three periods.
According to the newspaper, Metropolitan Police drivers responded to 2 million 999 calls in 2009/10 and covered 73 million miles in their vehicles during the year.
Scaled up, that would equate to a fatality rate of 137 per 1 billion miles driven, compared to a national killed & seriously injured rate, according to Department for Transport Statistics, of 85 in 2009.
In all, there were 3,015 people injured as a result of accidents involving a police car during the three-year period covered by the figures, which were released in response to a Freedom of Information request. Of those, 247 were pedestrians and 135 cyclists.
It needs to be borne in mind that not only will many of the accidents involving police vehicles have taken place at speed, which increases the risk of a fatal accident, but the data also include ‘vicinity only accidents’ where the police vehicle is not physically involved in an accident, but its presence is deemed to have been a contributory factor.
However, road safety campaigners say that police should not drive at excessive speeds when they did not need to do so. Ellen Booth of the charity Brake told the Daily Mail: “Every crash and death on the road is preventable and the 22 deaths reported by the Met are 22 deaths too many. One should not be risking lives in order to save a life.
“Police deal with the consequences of road accidents all day every day and I expect them to be very aware of the dangers involved in driving.
“In general, accidents on the roads are caused by all manner of things, including speeding, being distracted or using a mobile phone.
“We are concerned that emergency vehicles are sometimes driven at speed when it is not necessary.
“Anybody who drives an emergency vehicle above the speed limit should adequately assess the situation to ensure they are driving safely.
“It has to be done with extreme caution and should not be done as a matter of course.
“I know the police are concerned about safety and it is something they need to keep on top of,” she added.
Metropolitan Police spokesman Steve Sherwood agreed that the police needed to do everything possible to rescue the accident rate, saying: “We recognise that even one fatality is one too many and we are committed to reducing the number of police collisions.”
He added: “Our figures show that police collisions are continuing to come down year on year.
“We regularly review driver training procedures to ensure our staff receive the most professional and appropriate training available.
“Officers are all trained to a high standard and are fully aware that action may be taken against any officer who falls below that standard.
“This may involve retraining and, in some cases, removal from driving duties.
“We ensure we teach our drivers to act in a professional and measured manner at all times.”
Jo Bullock of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents told the newspaper: “The police, like any other employer, should be properly investigating accidents that involve their vehicles to establish the cause.
“They should then use this information to identify ways of preventing similar accidents in the future.
“Any fatal accidents are extremely tragic and there are strict procedures police have to go through to investigate these accidents, including referring them to the IPCC.
“Any reduction in the number of accidents is welcome. That demonstrates lessons are being learned and we hope that trend will continue.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.