Safer tire-spike alternatives

At least five officers were killed last year while deploying tire deflation devices

Tire-deflation devices to aid in the termination of pursuits have been with us for most of the careers of cops working today, but their use is not without controversy. When the devices are used, fleeing drivers still push their vehicles on, sometimes running on the metal rims to try and escape the police.

Worse, at least five law enforcement officers were killed in 2011 while deploying tire deflation devices. These devices require officers to be in close proximity in order to place them across the road or pull them back before police tires hit them. That makes an easy target for the fleeing driver who is either trying to drive around the spikes or who decides to hit the officer intentionally.

There are several alternatives to tire spikes on the market, but they haven’t received wide acceptance in the United States. It might be time for U.S. law enforcement to depart from conventional thinking and tactics on this topic, and consider some options that can immobilize vehicles faster and with less risk to roadside officers.

The Viper is a tire-spike device, but one with a lower profile and more remote operation than most other tire deflation tools.
The Viper is a tire-spike device, but one with a lower profile and more remote operation than most other tire deflation tools. (Image Courtesy of Pacific Scientific Energetic Materials Co)

The Viper
The Viper is a tire-spike device, but one with a lower profile and more remote operation than most other tire deflation tools. The 30-lb. container is 20x13x7 inches in size and controlled by a wireless remote with a 100-foot range. Before deployment at the roadside, it looks like a tool box. When the target vehicle approaches, the operator triggers the remote control and the Viper launches an 18-foot belt of tire spikes across the road.

Deployment takes less than a second, so it’s unlikely a driver would have time to react and drive around the spikes. When the target vehicle has passed over the spikes, the operator triggers the remote control again and the belt retracts in less than 1.5 seconds. The operator can be completely out of view of the target driver, and thus less likely to be injured.

The Viper is a product of Pacific Scientific Energetic Materials Co.

Another device developed by Engineering Science Analysis Manufacturing and Design (ESA), a Department of Homeland Security contractor, has several models that work on a similar principle of being a Safe, Quick, Undercarriage Immobilization Device. The SQUID Pod, made for deployment from a patrol vehicle, is round and could hold the cake for an office party. The pod is placed in the street, and when the target vehicle is half a second from running over it, triggered by the operator using a remote control.

The pod spits out six barbed straps in a star pattern, all still attached to the pod at the center. The barbs catch the front tires and hold onto them, then detaching from the pod. When the pod detects engine heat, a second gas cartridge fires, deploying sticky tendrils up and out from the pod. The tendrils intertwine with the straps, and the whole mess wraps around the vehicle’s wheels and axles, immobilizing it within 500 feet. The pod base can then be recovered to be re-armed at the factory.

There are several variations on the SQUID design, intended for heavier vehicles or fixed location installations.

The Viper is also marketed as the SQUID Strip by ESA.

The X-Net
The X-Net was developed and is manufactured in the UK by QinetiQ, a defense contractor. It is also vehicle-portable and uses a combination of barbs and high-strength material straps. The X-Net is deployed by laying a 45.5 lb., 19x10-foot mat across the roadway. The mat is a dark material and would be difficult for a driver to see on top of asphalt. When the target vehicle drives over it, barbs in the mat cling to the tires, picking up the mat as the tires rotate. The mat wraps around the wheels and axle, immobilizing the car within a few rotations of the wheels. The manufacturer says the device is sturdy enough that, once it’s unraveled from the car’s undercarriage, it can be folded away and deployed again. QinetiQ also makes a remote deployment device that can launch the X-Net with a foot pedal in under two seconds.

It’s important to note that all of these alternative devices stop vehicles relatively slowly, so that the occupants are not likely to be injured by the sudden deceleration. For example, a data sheet supplied by QinetiQ indicates that the X-Net will stop a Ford F150 pickup truck traveling at 30 miles per hour in 151 feet. Conventional tire deflation devices do the same thing by manufacturing the penetrating hardware as hollow “quills” that stick in the tire and allow the air to escape gradually, rather than blowing out the tire all at once.

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