A PIT maneuver (Precision Immobilization Technique, Pursuit Intervention Technique, or Precision Intervention Tactic) is a law enforcement practice used to stop fleeing vehicles while exposing the driver, police and the public to minimal risk. While PIT maneuvers are considered standard procedures by most U.S. police departments, they have been banned in the UK and other parts of Europe because of the perceived danger they present.
During a PIT maneuver, the pursuing vehicle pulls up beside a target vehicle and rides parallel its front tires roughly lined up with the target’s rear tires. When executing the maneuver, the pursuing driver steers sharply into the side of the target vehicle, causing it to skid. The driver of the target vehicle ultimately loses control and his vehicle is likely to either spin out or stop.
Here are some essential things to know about PIT maneuvers:
- Purpose: The primary purpose of a PIT maneuver is to immobilize a fleeing vehicle, making it unable to continue the pursuit. It’s considered a less-lethal alternative to more aggressive methods of stopping a fleeing suspect.
- Training: Law enforcement officers receive specialized training on how to conduct PIT maneuvers safely. The technique involves using the police vehicle’s front bumper to contact the rear quarter-panel of the fleeing vehicle, causing it to lose control and spin.
- Safety: Safety is a top priority when performing a PIT maneuver. Officers are trained to assess various factors, such as road conditions, traffic, and the speed of the pursuit, before attempting this type of maneuver. It should only be used when it can be executed with minimal risk to all parties involved.
- Effectiveness: Pit maneuvers are most effective when used on dry roads clear of traffic and pedestrians – in most instances, wet roads or bystanders make this move too dangerous.
- Number of vehicles: More than one pursuit vehicle is often involved in a PIT maneuver, as the vehicle executing the maneuver will need time to recover control after the impact and additional pursuit vehicles apprehend the suspects in the target car or assist with injuries if things go wrong.
- Vehicle compatibility: PIT maneuvers are typically performed by larger, heavier police vehicles, such as sedans or SUVs, against smaller and lighter fleeing vehicles, and may not be effective or safe when used against larger or more massive vehicles.
- Speed: The PIT maneuver works best at speeds close to 35 miles per hour (55 kph), and when vehicles are of a similar size and height. At greater speeds, other methods such as spike strips or tactical vehicle boxing are considered safer and more effective.
- Legal and policy considerations: The use of a PIT maneuver is subject to legal and departmental policies and guidelines. Officers are generally required to have reasonable cause to believe that the fleeing vehicle poses a significant threat to public safety or is involved in a serious crime before attempting a PIT maneuver.
- Approval: Law enforcement must usually seek approval before employing a PIT maneuver during a chase, and approval is typically only granted if the target vehicle presents an immediate danger to its occupants or the public.
- Alternatives: PIT maneuvers are not always the first choice when attempting to stop a fleeing vehicle. Law enforcement agencies often have a hierarchy of tactics that includes verbal commands, spike strips, and other non-lethal methods before resorting to a PIT maneuver.
- Potential risk: While PIT maneuvers are intended to minimize risk, there is always a potential for accidents, injury, or property damage during a pursuit. Officers must weigh the potential risks and benefits carefully before using this technique.
- Accountability and oversight: Many law enforcement agencies have procedures in place for reviewing and evaluating the use of PIT maneuvers. This includes assessing whether the maneuver was conducted in accordance with departmental policies and whether it was necessary in the given circumstances.
What happens if the alleged suspect is injured during a PIT maneuver?
Most law enforcement agencies have use of force policies that outline when and how force, including PIT maneuvers, can be used. These policies are typically designed to prioritize the safety of both officers and the public.
Injuries and deaths are not uncommon, either. A 2020 report by the Washington Post found that at least 30 people died, and “hundreds have been injured,” between 2016 and 2020 because of PIT maneuvers:
Out of those deaths, 18 came after officers attempted to stop vehicles for minor traffic violations such as speeding. In eight cases, police were pursuing a stolen car, and in two, drivers were suspected of serious felonies. Two other drivers had been reported as suicidal.
Ten of the 30 killed were passengers in the fleeing vehicles; four were bystanders or the victim of a crime.
The total number of people who have been killed or injured as a result of the maneuver is unknown because the nation’s more than 18,000 police departments are not required by the federal government to keep track.
Conviction for motor vehicle theft in Maryland is typically five years in prison and/or up to $5,000 in fines. Our point is that death is a pretty excessive outcome for someone accused of stealing a car.
There is also a risk of law enforcement executing the maneuver on the wrong car. It happened this September: police were pursuing two speeding vehicles, but executed the PIT maneuver on a third, unrelated vehicle. Luckily, no one was hurt – but it does not always work out that way.
Liability for injuries sustained during a PIT maneuver can vary depending on the specific circumstances, applicable laws, and the policies and procedures of the law enforcement agency involved. The accused have rights under the Constitution, too. If it is determined that the use of a PIT maneuver was excessive or not justified, the alleged suspect may be able to file a civil claim against the agency or officer(s). The outcome of such lawsuits will depend on the specific circumstances and legal arguments presented.
The specific guidelines and practices regarding PIT maneuvers vary by jurisdiction and law enforcement agency, and liability for injuries sustained during a PIT maneuver is a complex legal matter. If you have concerns or questions about how PIT maneuvers are used in your area, you should seek information from your local law enforcement agency or consult with legal experts who can provide guidance on the relevant laws and policies.
Carey Law Office is experienced in all the legal implications of PIT maneuvers. If you were injured or otherwise involved in a PIT maneuver in Maryland, we are ready to help. Call us in Bowie, Crofton, or Owings or fill out our contact form to set up your consultation with a criminal defense attorney today. We also serve Calvert County.
My name is Joe Carey, and I am the founder and principal attorney of the Carey Law Office. I have lived in Maryland my entire life. I grew up in a small town in Prince George’s County and, with the help of my partner in life, Nancy, I raised my family here: three exceptional children (a son and two daughters), and two goofy, spoiled black Labrador Retrievers. Learn More