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Many people are killed every year as a result of high-speed Police pursuit chases. It seems to be getting more common that criminals try to escape rather than submitting to the authority of Police. The number of resultant high-speed chases is on the rise.
Such chases have numerous inherent dangers. Both the suspect vehicle and the Police car(s) regularly go through red traffic signals and stop signs at very high speed. The suspects, the Police in the pursuit vehicles, innocent drivers and pedestrians are all at great risk of injury and death. In addition, a substantial amount of property damage often occurs.
All this danger and damage and injury and death is entirely avoidable! A simple and inexpensive solution is available.
All modern vehicles already are made with computers that control the operation of the engine. Most even already have ways that automatically shut the engine off if the oil pressure gets too low or the water temperature or oil temperature gets too high, to avoid serious damage to the engine. Therefore, much of the necessary circuitry already exists in every new car and truck!
Actually, many car owners already have virtually the identical system. They have a small "zapper" that they use to lock and unlock the car doors. Those systems even include extensive security features to make sure that no one else could unlock their vehicle! (But this new concept actually has far more sophisticated security coding, so that NO computer hacker could ever stall anyone's car! Instead of putting the receiver in the door-lock circuit to actuate it, just put it in the ignition circuit to disconnect it! The proposed device is actually far simpler than the car-door-lock equipment, and it would cost far less in a vehicle.
Actually, even more drivers already have similar Zappers which remotely open their home garage doors! Again, decent security so no one else gets into your house, but rather reliable, AND of short physical range, less than a city block.
Could anything BE much simpler?
If the hand-held zapper is within a few hundred feet of the vehicle, pressing the button simply shuts off the ignition to the engine.
Hopefully, it is clear from this example just how simple and inexpensive and proven the necessary technologies are. The vehicle portion (the receiver) could be manufactured and installed in all new vehicles for well under $5 per vehicle, probably under $1. The Police end of it (the transmitter or zapper) is also clearly very simple and inexpensive, being only slightly more complex than the millions of zappers that now open people's garage doors. Best of all, no new technology is necessary, so no enormous expense or time would be involved in applying this system.
In addition, there are several additional simple features that should be added to that basic system. A coded signal should be sent from the Police car to the vehicle, so he doesn't stop ALL vehicles' engines in the vicinity! But garage door openers have had that technology for many years, so only your zapper can open your garage door and burglars couldn't get into your house! The coded signal should therefore be different for various Makes (and Models) of vehicles. That way, all drivers of DIFFERENT Make/Model cars would be unaffected and their vehicles would run perfectly.
In addition, in the event that some criminal would ever get access to such a Police transmitter (or make his own), the coded signal should be both "secure" and time-variable. Again, these technologies already exist, in Internet processing of credit card transactions. Finally, to ensure that some rogue Officer would not get carried away and start using this system to stop normal traffic violators, a police car would not normally have this capability. On request by an Officer, the Department would radio him the current signal coding for a particular Make / Model of vehicle, which would expire an hour later.
These are each very simple and inexpensive additions to the basic system, and well worth the trouble for the safeguards they provide.
The Police dispatcher would have available a radio or computer link to a central source for the necessary encryption keys. This is equivalent to an Internet vendor accessing a Credit Card data source for the necessary security key codes. That digital information would be sent to the Officer, probably by his standard Police radio. A simple, inexpensive transmitter (the "zapper" referred to above) installed in the Police car would then locally transmit that encrypted signal, exactly like a garage door zapper.
ALL vehicles within a few hundred feet of the Police car would receive the transmitted signal. Vehicles beyond that distance would be unaffected. Vehicles that were of any other Make or Model would not match the encryption keys, and would therefore be also unaffected.
The suspect vehicle's radio receiver would find that the encryption keys match and would therefore immediately disconnect the ignition of that vehicle. The vehicle would simply roll to a stop, as though it had just run out of gas! No high-speed pursuit would be necessary. The only possibility where a brief high-speed chase could occur would be as an Officer first attempts to stop a suspect vehicle, and it bolts. This procedure takes several seconds to initiate, because of the various bureaucratic safeguards included in it. It is necessary for the (or a) Police car to remain within a few hundred feet of the suspect vehicle until the authorization has been granted and the disabling code transmitted to the Police Officer, at which time he/she can de-activate the ignition of the pursued vehicle. Therefore, even if a high-speed chase begins, it should only be able to be a fraction of a mile in duration, rather than the extended chases that we see on the nightly news.
There is only one very minor negative effect implicit in this system. An occasional innocent nearby driver might experience a temporary mysterious stalling of his engine, IF he happened to have the exact same Make and Model of car as that being pursued (and year, if that feature was used), and IF he happened to be within a few hundred feet of the transmitting Police vehicle. As soon as the chase action moved beyond the few hundred feet range the innocent motorist's vehicle would perform correctly again. If the chase ended very near the innocent motorist's vehicle, as soon as the suspect is apprehended, the transmitter would be shut off, and any affected innocent drivers would be able to drive away. In other words, the worst possible effect on any other motorists could be a brief impression of running out of gas. This is certainly much more desirable than the possibility of being hit by a high-speed vehicle involved in a pursuit chase.
For these modest costs, the benefits would be enormous. Greater public safety. Greater Police personnel safety. Less equipment damage. Less insurance claim payments for injury, death and property damage. Fewer lawsuits from injured parties. A more predictable sequence of the arrest procedure.
A second-order effect would likely eventually be that pursued vehicles would stop even trying to escape, thereby eliminating even brief high-speed chases. If a criminal doesn't see any value in trying to escape, hopefully he would be more prone to submit to authority.
Here's another very simple example of long existing technology. Imagine a child's radio-controlled airplane. He holds a transmitter and a small receiver is in the model airplane. Now put that transmitter in a Police car and the receiver in a target vehicle. The Officer could flip a switch and shut the engine off! Actually, we only need a "one-channel" system, where most modern model airplanes have multiple channels, so the technology we need is actually that of obsolete RC model airplane transmitters and receivers! As to the security protocol, the modern automatic garage door opener approach would apply. The transmitter and receiver have a unique coding so that other drivers cannot open your garage and house. Again, all this technology has existed for a long time.
The proposed system has a slightly more sophisticated security system, where the necessary message is changed each hour, so a transmitter in criminal hands could not do much harm. But, the proposed system is extremely simple and straightforward and of amazingly low expense.
That first automobile manufacturer that includes this remote ignition shutoff system would be able to develop some very persuasive television ads. They would probably sell a lot of additional cars because people would realize how much that manufacturer cared about public safety. Does P/R get any better than that?
I can imagine a simple, yet impressive demonstration that an automaker could present for the media and authorities. Imagine half a dozen new vehicles of that manufacturer all including standard coded-signal garage door opener receivers (as described above), and all being different body colors (white, black, red, etc). Their drivers are all instructed to start weaving around in a vacant demonstration parking lot. Nearby, in an office, dignitaries and media watch the vehicles through the office windows. A Police Chief is handed a half dozen standard garage door zappers, each brightly colored to match the colors of the cars outside. The Chief is told to stop the red car. Without any prior instruction, he logically presses the red button. Everyone watches as the red car outside safely and calmly rolls to a stop, without damage or collision or excitement. The other cars continue to move around, unaffected. Any zapper the Chief presses causes just that car to stall, and no others. No accidents. No danger to pedestrians, the "apprehended" driver, any of the other drivers, or to any other objects, exists. No injuries, no deaths, no property damage. A calm and controlled arrest procedure.
Such a demonstration would not even need any of the security protocols, and it would impressively demonstrate the concept. You probably have noted that such a demonstration could be accomplished at far less than $1,000 total expense! And the potential for positive Public Relations and additional vehicle sales would be enormous.
If such a manufacturer began unilaterally installing such devices in their vehicles, they would certainly get regular news coverage of their efforts. Such extensive media coverage would certainly be worth many millions of dollars of expensive advertising, and it would be free!
Amazingly enough, there would be yet another media benefit for such a manufacturer. Keeping in mind how simple and inexpensive the Police transmitters and associated equipment is, the manufacturer might consider GIVING the necessary equipment to various Police Departments, one at a time. I would think that a "media event" would occur in each city where this was done, with additional priceless P/R value.
It would be hard to imagine why a manufacturer WOULDN'T immediately want to start installing such devices! The benefits to that first manufacturer would be enormous!
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In June 2003, I noticed that the History Channel aired a program on the process of shipping Hazardous Materials. They described that there is now a system that I think they called Qualcom which vaguely resembles my concept. Each truck that is hauling HAZMAT materials is apparently now continuously monitored by a satellite system like GPS. If a truck carrying HAZMAT gets too near a school or other sensitive area, the monitoring facility has the ability to shut off the fuel to the engine of the offending truck. The truck then rolls to a peaceful stop, NOT EVEN ENDANGERING THE HAZMAT MATERIAL INSIDE IT! This is mentioned because several people have been highly critical of my concept in claiming that a pursued vehicle would go out of control if my system shut off the ignition of the vehicle. This HAZMAT system establishes that a vehicle will definitely remain under control if the engine just stops operating. The presentation above makes it clear that my system simply makes the vehicle act as though it had just run out of gas, a rather safe condition that millions of motorists face each year, whether due to actually running out of gas or to a mechanical failure in the engine.
Those people who have intensely criticized me for causing the engine to suddenly seem to have run out of gas, must never have run out of gas themselves! It is a very annoying situation, but completely safe where the vehicle remains completely under control.
C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago