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, learn about different types of pursuit management devices and NIJ’s involvement in their development and evaluation.
Tire-Deflator Devices are designed to immobilize vehicles moving at high speeds along an open stretch of roadway. The devices can be used to target multiple suspect vehicles in a pursuit event and often are reusable — spikes that are lost or damaged can be easily replaced.
In 1995, NIJ teamed up with the Department of Energy's Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory to develop the tire-deflator device, called the RoadSpike™, which 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.
Electronic discharge 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 disrupt or destroy vehicle electronics.
In the early to mid-2000s, NIJ funded research into electronic discharge devices to stall cars, specifically a device called the Road Sentry™. Learn more about his evaluation from the grant report.
Electromagnetic radiation devices. In the mid-2000s, NIJ collaborated with the Department of Defense's (DoD) Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWP) 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. Read the final report (pdf, 47 pages).
Directed Energy Devices 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.
In 2009, NIJ funded a field test of a system developed by Fiore industries that used microwave technology. The system 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. Read the final report (redacted) (pdf, 8 pages).
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.
Remote Tracking of Fleeing Vehicles. Many vehicle stopping technologies 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.
Beginning in 2012, NIJ worked with StarChase, a Virginia company, to enhance and test a system they developed 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 funded an initial pilot test with the Arizona Department of Public Safety (AZDPS). Field trials with feedback from participating officers were conducted, and technology improvements to the system were performed. Field testing found that on average, a tagged fleeing suspect slowed to within 10 miles of the posted speed limit in less than 2 minutes, reducing the risk for a crash. In the case studies reviewed, there no injuries, fatalities, or property damage. There was an 80-percent apprehension rate for suspects in tagged cars. Read the final report from the field test (pdf, 58 pages).
The National Criminal Justice Technology Research, Test, and Evaluation Center (funded by NIJ and hosted by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory) performed an independent assessment of StarChase in 2014. The Center contacted 10 law enforcement agencies that use the technology and ultimately conducted case studies at three of them, which differed in size, location, and pursuit policies. The assessment, using both quantitative data and qualitative feedback, was not an evaluation of the system's capabilities but rather a study of how the agencies used the technology. Learn more from the article "Case Study of a GPS Tracking Tool Designed to Aid in Police Vehicle Pursuits."