Technology Developments for Pursuit Management
As part of its traffic safety efforts, NIJ supports the development of innovative and precise technologies to make high-speed car chases safer. NIJ’s goals are:
- To end high-speed pursuits before they endanger life or damage property.
- To catch criminals before they escape.
On this page find:
- Tire-Deflator Devices
- Electronic Discharge Devices
- Directed Energy Devices
- Remote Tracking of Fleeing Vehicles
In 1995, NIJ teamed up with the Department of Energy's Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory to develop a tire-deflator device that would immobilize vehicles moving at high speeds along an open stretch of roadway. The tire-deflator device, called the RoadSpike™, is now a commercial product.
There are several positive aspects to using RoadSpike™. It offers remote activation and deactivation capabilities. The officer controlling the device will leave the spikes flat until the correct vehicle approaches. It can be deployed across one or more lanes of a roadway and can be rolled into a loop and stowed in the trunk of a patrol car after use. The device can be used to target multiple suspect vehicles in a pursuit event. Finally, it is reusable — spikes that are lost or damaged can be easily replaced.
However, because it requires law enforcement officers to place the spikes directly in the road, it can put both the officers and other motorists in danger. It also requires that officers accurately predict where a fleeing vehicle is headed and have sufficient time to deploy the device.
Electronic Discharge Devices
NIJ has funded research into electronic discharge devices to stall cars, specifically a device called the Road SentryTM. These devices require very close proximity to the vehicle. They must be placed on the road and, as a result, share many of the same concerns and limitations of tire-deflation devices. These devices work by emitting a series of short-range electromagnetic (EM) pulses that destroy vehicle electronics. During testing of the Road SentryTM, 40 percent of test shots (discharges) stopped vehicles on the first shot. Future research and development will allow this device to be triggered remotely during pursuit. This will prevent accidental discharge.
Directed Energy Devices
NIJ has funded research into technologies that send out directed energy to disrupt and stall a vehicle’s electrical system. As with electronic discharge devices, directed energy devices use an EM pulse to short a vehicle's electrical system. Unlike the electronic discharge and tire deflator devices, however, directed energy devices avoid the operational limitations that come with devices that must be close to the targeted vehicle.
A system developed by Fiore industries that used microwave technology was able to stop the engine of a Plymouth Voyager from as far as 60 feet away. Sensors placed within the vehicle showed that the microwaves would not have harmed a passenger or disrupted the workings of medical equipment, such as a pacemaker or hearing aid.
One limitation of this technology is that any vehicle in its radius of effect will be affected. Future development activities in this area will include ensuring that EM pulses only affect the target vehicle, and making devices smaller and lighter.
Collaboration with the Department of Defense
NIJ is collaborating with the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWP) to study how effectively EM radiation works to stop vehicles. NIJ and the JNLWP have similar needs with varying requirements. By investing in radiofrequency technology together, both agencies can obtain the knowledge they require.
NIJ and DoD collaborated to support developing and testing a device that uses a microwave source to immobilize a vehicle. The device, developed by Eureka Aerospace, weighed 230 pounds, small enough to be integrated into a police car. The goal was to interfere with microprocessors that controlled critical functions such as ignition control and fuel pump control. The prototype was able to shut down the engine of a 1999 Honda Accord with a single pulse.
Remote Tracking of Fleeing Vehicles
Tire deflator devices, electronic discharge devices and directed energy devices all have the potential to cause a driver to lose control. An alternative to stopping a car is tagging it so it can be tracked. This avoids the high-speed chase scenarios that can be so dangerous to bystanders and officers alike. StarChase, a Virginia company, has developed a system that uses laser targeting and a compressed air apparatus to fire a miniature GPS system, complete with battery, at a car. A specialized adhesive compound ensures that the system stays on the car. The GPS transmits the car’s location every few seconds. The system could be integrated into police patrol vehicles. NIJ is currently working with the company and several federal and local law enforcement agencies to test the system.
StarChase in the field. Thanks to funding from NIJ to institute a pilot and test the device, the system has been integrated into police patrol vehicles in the Arizona Department of Public Safety (AZDPS). In April 2012, the AZDPS attempted to stop a speeding vehicle. When the vehicle refused to stop, rather than pursuing the fleeing vehicle, the AZDPS deployed StarChase, tagging it so they could track it. The AZDPS tracked the vehicle to the owner's residence, where they arrested the owner and impounded the vehicle. They found over 486 pounds of marijuana in the rear cab.