31 May 2018

Police chases: Teens can't think like adults - psychologist

12:44 pm on 31 May 2018

Young people being chased by police don't have the capacity to make sensible decisions, a clinical psychologist says.

Police car in Wellington

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

On Monday, a 15-year-old driver and 12-year-old passenger died after a crash following a police pursuit in Palmerston North.

Psychologist Dougal Sutherland told Morning Report the adolescent brain was not fully developed until the age of 25.

"We shouldn't expect them to act like adults because they can't think like adults."

When police start chasing with their lights and sirens going, a young person's brain goes into flight-or-fight mode, he said.

They focus on getting away from the perceived danger - the police.

"What's not going on, and this is really important to think about the age of these young people, is that they don't have those decision-making, those planning, those thinking-ahead capacities, because simply their brain isn't fully developed yet."

Mr Sutherland said most young people do go through a period of antisocial behaviour when they experiment and take risks.

"To be fair most young people don't go on to continue those sorts of behaviours."

Joy riding in cars was just such an adrenaline-seeking activity, Mr Sutherland said.

But he said he did not know how police would be able to tell the age of a driver they were chasing.

"I do feel for the police."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs