In hot pursuit of innovation

The police could soon be able to end car chases without having to resort to dangerous tyre-puncturing devices. Northamptonshire-based inventor Donald Howells is planning to patent a transmitter which will allow police to trigger a car’s anti-theft immobiliser by remote control, bringing hot pursuits to a more safe and controllable end. A mat of spikes […]

The police could soon be able to end car chases without having to resort to dangerous tyre-puncturing devices.

Northamptonshire-based inventor Donald Howells is planning to patent a transmitter which will allow police to trigger a car’s anti-theft immobiliser by remote control, bringing hot pursuits to a more safe and controllable end.

A mat of spikes called the Stinger is currently used to stop fleeing vehicles. This is thrown on the road in front of the suspect’s car, puncturing its tyres and forcing it to stop.

Howells believes this approach is unnecessarily dangerous, and that his immobiliser could stop vehicles without damaging them, improving the safety of the police, public, and fleeing suspect.

Anti-theft immobilisers, increasingly fitted to cars, vans and lorries, consist of two basic components: a key and an electronic module fitted to the engine block, which disables the engine.

When the ignition key is turned a signal is sent from the module to interrogate the key. If the key replies with the correct identification code the engine starts up.

Howells’ transmitter uses hierarchical signal technology, which acts like a skeleton key, triggering the immobiliser of a particular make and model of vehicle.

The immobilising device consists of a transmitter and an alphanumeric keypad mounted on the police car’s dashboard. It allows the police officer to key in the make and model of vehicle being pursued.

The transmitter sends the relevant signal and the car engine of the suspect’s car is shut off without interfering with its driver’s ability to brake.

`Police officers would be given a personal ID number to ensure that only they could operate the device,’ said Howells. `It could also be built into a patrol car’s dashboard to make it more difficult to steal.’

Howells is seeking a manufacturer to license his idea. He has no engineering background himself and employed an electronic engineer to build his working prototype.

His motivation came from frustration at seeing the difficulties the police face in car chases. `I just happened to be someone who got out of his armchair and did something about it,’ he said.