The safety and maintenance of the ACT police fleet is under scrutiny after a court heard one of its operational cars was technically unroadworthy when involved in a fatal accident in May last year.
The ACT Supreme Court was told this week an experienced detective had been responding to an urgent "offenders on premises" call when his police vehicle, with its flashing lights activated, ran a red light and collided with a Hyundai Getz at a Kaleen intersection.
The collision resulted in critical injuries to the Hyundai's 53-year-old driver, Amanda Beehag, whose life support was turned off five weeks later.
However, in a serious court-related repercussion for ACT police, the court was told that the ageing Holden Commodore police car involved in the collision should not have been in operational use because it had been technically unroadworthy.
The police vehicle had three bald tyres and deficient brakes.
In a summary of the findings presented to the court, the mechanical inspection found the vehicle in "fair" condition" and said it had been driven "harshly" during its service life.
Three of the car's tyres had been "devoid of tread on the inner and outside shoulders and had reached the end of their service life" requiring immediate replacement, and the front brakes had been in poor condition, requiring immediate servicing.
The brake calipers had needed overhauling and replacement of the brake pads, disc rotors and brake fluid had all been necessary.
However, it concluded that mechanical failure had not contributed to the crash and the responsibility rested with the driver.
The accused officer's defence barrister, Steven Whybrow, said the condition of the police car should be of concern "if vehicles AFP officers are provided to respond to critical incidents in a timely manner are not even roadworthy let alone set up or modified for urgent driving duties".
"Whilst the condition of the vehicle may not have contributed to the tragic accident on 4 May 2018, imagine if that vehicle was being driven at speed in wet weather, or the brakes had failed due to lack of servicing?" he said.
In a statement, ACT police said they had "processes to manage the scheduled servicing of fleet vehicles".
In court, the accused officer gave a damning assessment of the Belconnen police station's fleet of cars.
On the day of the crash, he had returned one of the sergeants' Holden Commodores when he realised the transmission had been faulty while out on a previous job.
He had been driving in a second, unroadworthy car when the crash happened and wouldn't have driven it under urgent driving conditions if he had known about its poor brakes and tyres.
Many of the leased cars in the 200-vehicle ACT police fleet are well-worn Holden Commodores and Ford Falcons.
Holden has not produced a Commodore since October 2017 and Ford closed the factory that produced the Falcon nearly three years ago.
The ACT has replaced just 10 of its general duties Commodores and Falcons with premium grade Subaru Liberty sedans, and its Traffic Operations fleet with black Volkswagen Passat R-Line wagons.
General duties police were prioritised because their sedans were among the oldest in the fleet but the replacement program is painfully slow.
The issues are both administrative and technical, with police cars required to be fitted with specialised equipment including the new "mobile communications platforms".
An experienced officer who could not be named because he would face reprisal said that most of the Falcons and Commodores used by ACT detectives had more than 120,000km on their odometers, were poorly maintained, and rarely inspected unless a major fault was revealed when driven.
The court was told that prior to the fatal crash, the officer involved had been preparing a brief to management on his observations about the poor safety and maintenance of ACT police vehicles.
The leasing and preparation of ACT police cars is managed by its finance and logistics area, then cars handed over for operational use.
Most operational police cars accumulate high mileage quickly as a result of being used on a pooled basis, with each incoming shift being given access to the car pool on a 24/7 basis.
Each of the Canberra stations are allocated a pool of operational vehicles.
However, specialised vehicles such as the Hyundai iLoad multi-seat vans and the "caged" light commercial vehicles used to secure offenders, are rated as unsuitable for urgent duty driving, which further restricts the vehicles suited to rapid response.
In 2017-18, ACT Policing budgeted $3.5 million to cover its total vehicle costs but spent $3.23 million. Separately, $82,000 was spent on maintenance.
Under the Australian Federal Police national guidelines, orders for new vehicles must be made at least seven months in advance of when the vehicle is required, which makes the management of vehicle mileage and mechanical condition a critical issue.
Officially, all police are advised to visually inspect their operational vehicles before use.