What is the PIT Maneuver & When Do Officers Use It?

When law enforcement is in active pursuit, they have many tools at their disposal to apprehend the suspect or suspects. One of the more notorious immobilization methods during a car chase is called the precision immobilization technique (or pursuit intervention tactic, depending on who you ask), otherwise known as the PIT maneuver. 

Here we’ll go over how it works, when it’s used, and why it has been the subject of controversy.


What is the PIT Maneuver?

PIT has been in law enforcement’s proverbial tool belt since the 1980s and has proven to be effective, yet controversial. The objective of the PIT maneuver is to force a vehicle to spin out to a stop, where officers can quickly surround the car in order to make an arrest. However, it is not always useful, particularly in high-speed chases because of high risk for injury or even death. 

Nevertheless, the PIT maneuver has proven to come in handy in some situations. Here’s how it works:


How the PIT Maneuver Works

  • Get in position: The officer accelerates their vehicle toward the target vehicle’s left or right side, bringing the nose of their car so that it overlaps the rear of the suspect’s car by about 2-3 feet.
  • Match speed, make contact: The officer then matches the speed of the suspect’s vehicle. The officer then steers into the target vehicle, making contact with it, right behind the rear tire.
  • Retain control: After making contact, the officer turns the wheel a quarter turn into the suspects car and immediately pulls the wheel back into the direction of travel.
  • Let physics work: If executed properly, the force applied to the back of the target’s vehicle will cause it to fishtail and turn 180 degrees, causing it to stall and immobilizing it instantly. This will allow the officer to stop and block the suspect’s door in order to make an arrest.


Controversies surrounding PIT

As alluded to above, there is some controversy surrounding the PIT maneuver. It is not useful in every situation due to the high risk of injury and death. In fact, during high speed chases, it is not recommended to use PIT to subdue suspects due to the high chances of catastrophic collision. Instead, it’s recommended to use spike strips or other apprehension methods.

Here are just some of the conditions that will prevent the use of PIT:

  • High speeds
  • Presence of pedestrians or other motorists
  • If an innocent passenger is present within the target car
  • If there are children are present within the target car
  • Poor road conditions
  • Adverse weather conditions
  • Severity of the offense that caused the pursuit in the first place

So essentially, the conditions need to be perfect in order for the PIT maneuver to even be considered as a viable option. On top of all this, modern cars have diminished PIT’s effectiveness.


Why PIT Isn’t As Useful Today

Since 2012, all new vehicles sold in the US have mandated electronic stability control (ESC). ESC is a safety feature that prevents rollovers and fishtailing by stabilizing vehicles that are hit or swerve by preventing under- or over-steering. Additionally, different car manufacturers implement different types of ESC, which, in combination with other manufacturing-specific factors, causes a car’s reaction to the PIT to be unpredictable. This, as one can imagine, really puts a damper on the effectiveness of the PIT maneuver. 


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