ROADS REPORT: You can run but you can’t hide

There’s no escaping these new law-enforcement technologies

Blog Entry January 15, 2014

David Matthews has been chronicling the unexpectedly humorous side of transportation news for his Roads Report column since 2000. The stories are all true.

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Taking a shot at ending chases
Everyone loves a good car chase . . . in the movies.


Real-life chases, like the one this past fall near the U.S. Capitol, can be deadly. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that on average in the U.S., one person dies every day in a police chase.


Well now police in Iowa think they’ve found an action-movie-worthy solution: cannons.


Actually, it’s called StarChase and it’s essentially a compressed-air cannon mounted into the grill of a police cruiser. But instead of shooting cannonballs, these devices fire GPS “bullets” that stick to the back of a perp’s car.


Officers are then able to back off the chase and track the suspect’s location in real-time from their computer or phone.


When the unwitting suspect thinks that police have given up, they usually slow down in order to blend in with traffic and then inadvertently lead police straight back to their home and/or secret underground lair.


Given StarChase’s price tag, however, there’s not much room for error. The system costs $5,000, and each GPS bullet sets taxpayers back an additional $500.


The fast and the furious
Catching bad guys in the American heartland is one thing, but soldiers on the battlefield face a completely different set of obstacles.


That’s why the Canadian military says it plans to train its soldiers in rally-car driving.


The Canadian Forces announced this fall that they are looking for five top rally-sport instructors to engage their soldiers in the art of “high-speed obstacle avoidance,” among other techniques, at a training facility featuring a 2½-mile track with gravel, dirt and paved sections, plus blind corners, crests, tight turns, ditches and logs.


This type of military training isn’t new—the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and United Kingdom all offer race-car training to their enlisted men and women.


Canada hopes to avoid any more accidents like those a few years ago in Afghanistan and Bosnia where armored vehicles with high centers of gravity rolled over in rough road conditions.


Plus rally cars look really cool in recruitment catalogs.


Shop ‘til you get dropped
Of course, the bad guys aren’t always in cars.


Slow and annoying pedestrians are the target of one of 2014’s hot new trends: “pavement rage.”


Michael Batty, professor at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at the University College London, told the U.K.’s Telegraph that busy shopping periods, like the current post-Christmas returns and sales season, tend to bring out the worst in people.


“This can be a real problem when large numbers of people all looking for different things tend to cluster in main shopping areas, resulting in pavement congestion, frustration and what is known as ‘pavement rage.’”


According to a recent survey by the shopping app Udozi, the biggest trigger for pavement rage is “dawdlers,” followed closely by large groups of people taking up too much space.
The list also included shoppers who stop abruptly to window shop, people talking too loudly on their phones and large flocks of teenagers.


Parents with strollers, people who stop to take photos and tourists rounded out the list.


Ironically, despite all these headaches, the majority of those questioned said they still preferred to shop in person rather than online.


Stopped in their tracks
A new device on the market can bring a bad guy’s car to a halt with a blast of electromagnetic waves.


The British-made RF Safe-Stop uses radio-frequency pulses to “confuse” a vehicle’s electronic systems and shut down its engine.


Product manager Andy Wood explained to the BBC that “the RF [radio frequency] is pulsed from the unit just as it would be in radar, it couples into the wiring in the car and that disrupts and confuses the electronics in the car causing the engine to stall.”


The Safe-Stop works at a range of up to 164 ft and can stop not just cars but motorbikes, boats or anything else with an electronic system.


Wood acknowledges that this also is the system’s weak spot: its defenses can be overcome by an old clunker with a less-sophisticated engine system.


Nonetheless, the Safe-Stop is being marketed to anyone with a need to bring out-of-control or unresponsive vehicles to a stop, including militaries, police forces and parents of teenagers. R&B

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