The US has given the world many fine cultural exports: Seinfeld, basketball, the blues. But there's one thing that beats all others: televised car chases.
We have late-night TV programmes in the UK devoted to high-speed car chases, but it just isn't the same. I'd much rather watch someone tearing up and down a seemingly endless US highway than doing similar on the A4 in Slough. You can argue that chases like these aren't big or clever, and they're definitely not safe, but they are watchable. If you don't believe me then here you go, although I challenge you to get through the first 80 seconds without a headache:
The best of American TV? Hmmm, maybe not, but anyway…
Police in Europe are now looking at ways to use technology to stop these dangerous -- and sometimes deadly -- car chases. The Telegraph has reported that the European Union is developing a "remote stopping" device that can be fitted to all new cars to allow the police to stop vehicles at the flick of a switch in a police control room.
Senior EU police officers have set out a plan for "remote stopping vehicles" as part of a wider investigation into law enforcement surveillance and tracking measures. This would allow police to stop a car being driven by a fugitive by turning off the engine, cutting the supply of fuel, and switching off the ignition. The EU envisages a six-year development timetable for this technology. It could be in all new vehicles as early as 2020, and replace current stopping techniques like spiking a vehicle's tyres.
The EU wants such devices in all new cars in Europe by the end of the decade to cut the dangers caused by speeding cars. I would expect people in cities to welcome the plan on this basis, since it should improve safety pedestrians, cyclists, and other drivers.
But, as with most things, it isn't that simple. The report said that state monitoring watchdog Statewatch has leaked the information about this plan because it is concerned that such a system would lead to abuse, particularly of controversial policies like stop and search.
This is a fair point. There would need to be clear rules governing when technology like this could be used. It seems fair to use it to stop a car involved in a high-speed chase, or when a car has been stolen. But what about its use to stop suspected criminals or people who are simply acting suspiciously? Who can make that judgement?
There also seems to be the practical problem for police of knowing which car to turn off. If an officer is watching a chase on CCTV cameras in a control room, then it would be relatively straightforward for them to switch off the correct car if it is using its real number plates, but what if the car has fake plates? I don't see how a police officer with the power to turn off the car will know if he or she is targeting the right car. It could cause havoc for the poor sap in a completely unrelated car with those number plates.
David Davies, a Conservative MP, also raised a concern in the Telegraph article about what happens if the switches go off by accident: "I would be fascinated to know what the state's liability will be if… one went off by accident whilst a car was doing 70 mph on a motorway with a truck behind, it resulting in loss of life," he said.
I'm in favour of sensible measures to make cars less dangerous, but this technology would need to be able to target the correct cars and be, as far as possible, foolproof. From what I've heard so far, I'm not convinced that it would be either.
—Rich Heap, Community Editor, UBM's Future Cities