For others, the thrill of the chase was the chance to test driving skills and cars were deliberately taken because they matched or exceeded the power of police cars:
It's better in a fast car 'cos if you do get chased, if you're in something slow you've got no chance of getting away.
You think 'I've got to get out of this', so you're giving it some and all the time you're eyes are everywhere. You're not looking straight ahead, you're all over the place; you need eyes in the back of your head . . . 1 mean some people just disregard it and just go and that's it, they don't consider anybody, but you've got to look for kids, cars coming the other way . . . you've got to be switched on the whole time, you haven't got lime to think, you've got to be four steps ahead of everybody.
If I ever get in a chase I head straight for the country because there's less cars to hit and get in the way. If you crash, you've got more places to go.
As mentioned already, offenders tended to overestimate their driving skills and to interpret police failure to catch them as evidence of inability rather than prudence:
They say 'joyriders' or whatever you want to call them are bad drivers, but at the end of the day, the people behind the wheel of a stolen car can drive—he's got to be able to drive because the pressures on to get away from the police as soon as possible. It's not luck that they get away, they've got to be good drivers.
I just took them (the police) through their paces on the council estates and lost them there.
A few people mentioned fear of the police beating them up as an extra incentive to get away:
It's nerve wracking to put it mildly. You're hoping to God they're not going to catch you because most of the time now, you get a hell of a beating.
Some of the interviewees were critical of police tactics:
They shouldn't be allowed to chase you, its just as simple as that. . . If it's a high performance car, the police don't usually touch it, they stay away because they know it's going to go quick.
If a copper tries to pull you over, you just go like. They make it worse— they chase you and you panic and you do anything then, you just don't care, you want to get away from them, put your foot down.
You've got to drive like hell to get away. They've got more powerful cars and the numbers have changed. Nowadays there are more police coming in to join a chase. They get on the radio and tell all their mates and they come
to rush in and help catch them. They're more alert about cars, so we've got to be twice as fast and quick thinking.
The police dilemma cannot be stressed too strongly. It may be that if the police adopt a policy of never chasing vehicles offenders may use it to their advantage and the public might be outraged; however, the safely of the public (and of the officers themselves) must be paramount.
Two questions were asked—did the interviewee think about what punishment could be expected if caught taking a car, and did thai expectation act as a deterrent?
Perceived and actual risks of penalty
On the first question, 44 per cent of the sample reported thinking about what punishment they could expect if caught taking cars:
I knew what the consequences were, well I had a reasonable idea what the consequences would be if I was caught.
A slightly larger number (47%) did not think about how they might be punished if caught, and nine per cent thought about it only sometimes:
It (the thought of punishment) never entered my head. When I got caught, I got in trouble, I done my time and came out and I was at it again.
Not surprisingly, those in the 15-16 age range were least likely to think about punishment (58%). Less than a third of those aged over 26 years said the same. A disproportionately high number of the North of England sample (87%) said that they did not think about punishment.
A comparison can be made between what punishment the current offenders felt they would attract if caught,1 and actual sentences meted out by the courts in 1990. The details are in Table 5.2. Offenders' perceptions are based on answers from slightly less than half of the sample (namely, those who said they kept possible punishment in mind). Actual sanctions are shown in two ways: (i) including the sizeable proportion who were taken to court but not convicted, and (ii) with these cases omitted. It is a moot point as to which comparison is best matched to offenders' perceptions of sanctions.
Compared to actual penalties, offenders underestimate their own chances of being cautioned or of getting a conditional discharge, whereas they overesti- mate considerably the likelihood of a custodial penalty. Such was the case with the present sample. This overestimation is of course pertinent to any policy option aiming to deter offenders from car theft by increasing the severity of
1 The relevanr questions were: 'Did you ihink you would be punished if you were caught taking a car? and 'What punishment did you think you would most likely receive?'.