High speed driving: police use of lethal force during simulated incidents

Jo Barton, Aldert Vrij, Ray Bull

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: The effects of high speed driving and field independence on police officers' physiological arousal, emotion and shooting behaviour were investigated within two operationally realistic simulated firearms environments. Based upon Zillmann's (1971) excitation transfer theory it was hypothesized that officers would misattribute their feelings of arousal caused by high speed driving, attributing these feelings to the suspect, resulting in increased feelings of irritation towards the suspect, and thus have a higher probability of an inappropriate discharge of their weapon. In addition, research in the area of field dependence- independence has revealed that field dependent people are more easily distracted than field independent people (Feij, 1976). Therefore, it was predicted that high speed driving would lead to an increase in self-rated willingness to shoot the suspect and actual shooting, especially in police officers who are field dependent.

Methods: Twenty-nine pairs of Authorised Firearms Officers were briefed on an ‘incident’ they would be asked to attend. Officers were instructed to drive at either patrol or high speed. On arrival at the simulated incident, officers were asked to respond to one of two scenarios: one where the officer would be justified in shooting the suspect, or one where it would be difficult for the officer to justify having shot the suspect.

Results and Conclusions: Results revealed that driving at high speed did indeed increase officers' objective and subjective feelings of arousal, feelings of irritation towards the suspect, and reduced officers self-rated willingness to shoot the suspect. Field dependent officers reported feeling significantly more willing to shoot the suspect when it was legally justifiable. Speed of driving, role in the car (driver/passenger), and field independence had no significant main effect on police officers' shooting behaviour either in the scenario where officers were justified to shoot the suspector in the scenario where it was difficult to justify having shot the suspect.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-121
JournalLegal and Criminological Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2000


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