June 19, 2012 -- More bystanders are injured or killed during high-speed police chases than by stray bullets. In California, more than 10,000 people have been injured and over 300 people killed because of police chases in the last decade, according to newly released statistics from the California Highway Patrol.
Nationally, it's estimated nearly 300 people die each year as a result of high speed police chases. But a watchdog group says the figure is easily two or three times higher because there is no mandatory reporting system. Exactly what's reported is left to the discretion of local law enforcement agencies.
For instance, bystanders who die later at the hospital are often not counted in the police chase statistics. Also, babies and children trapped inside the suspect's vehicle are not counted as innocent victims.
Just last week in Lubbock, Texas, a toddler was hurled from the window of a careening SUV. Miraculously, the child survived.
The vast majority of chases do not involve bank robbers trying to get away from a shootout. Rather, the National Institute of Justice says, many are routine traffic stops gone awry. Nearly 90 percent of pursuits are for non-violent offenses.
According to the institute, 46 percent of chases involve drivers under the influence, 32 percent involve stolen cars, and 27 percent involve drivers with suspended licenses.
In 2006, the California Highway Patrol instituted new policies to reduce risks. The CHP discouraged officers from pursuing suspects when doing so would likely endanger too many people.
They've deployed devices designed to pop tires of fleeing suspects. They've adopted the use of the so-called "PIT maneuver" -- the Precision Immobilization Technique -- which, when correctly executed, brings the suspect's car to a stop after it is nudged from behind by a patrol car.
Finally, they now have four new "eyes in the sky" -- fixed-wing aircraft that can read a license plate from a mile away. The aircraft can help officers on the ground track a runaway vehicle more easily without having to give chase.
Changes such as these have resulted in fewer chases overall, but new CHP data shows individual chases now can be even more deadly.
"It's important to note," CHP Director of Communications Fran Clader told ABC News today, "that in 2011 we initiated nearly 4 million traffic stops. In less than half of one percent of those stops did the motorist choose to flee."
Attorney Stephanie Yablow lobbied hard for reforms after her elderly mother and father were injured in a high speed chase. She was shocked to learn how little recourse they had.
"You've got to ask, is it worth it?" she said.
It's a judgment police officers have to make on the fly.