Dave Barry

Classic '96: King of the road



This Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, December 1, 1996.

Here's the problem: If you stop 100 people at random and ask them to evaluate their driving ability, every single one will say "above average." It is a scientific fact that all drivers, including those who are going the wrong way on interstate highways, believe they are above average. Obviously, this is impossible: SOME drivers have to be below average. Not me, of course. I am currently ranked fourth among the top drivers in world history, between Mario Andretti and Spartacus.

But there are many incompetent people out there on the roads, changing speed and direction without warning, or drifting along in the left, or "passing," lane at 23 miles per hour, blinking their turn signals, which they never turn off, even in the garage. These people make me crazy, which is why I am so excited about the car harpoon.

I found out about the car harpoon from an Associated Press item, sent to me by many alert readers, concerning the police in the town of Oulu, Finland. Finland (also known as "Norway") is a northern European nation that also contains a city named "Espoo" (suggested civic motto: "The City That Sounds Like A Person Spitting").

You might think that the biggest traffic menace in Finland would be unlicensed reindeer, but the Oulu police have a problem with speeders and drunk drivers who refuse to stop. That's why police Sgt. Markku Limingoja invented the car harpoon. This is a missile-shaped object, equipped with hydraulically activated barbs, that sticks several feet out from the front bumper of the police car. The idea is that if the police are chasing somebody, they ram the harpoon into the fleeing car's trunk, activate the barbs to keep the two cars stuck together, then use their brakes to stop both vehicles.

We definitely need the car harpoon over here. Of course we'd have to modify the concept slightly, as follows:

1. It would not be limited to police cars. It would also be available as an option on cars operated by qualified civilian drivers such as (needless to say) yourself.

2. The civilian model car harpoon — which I assume would be marketed under the name "Carpoon" — would contain additional features, including a powerful public-address system.

The Carpoon would greatly enhance the driving experience. Envision this scenario: You're behind a bad driver stopped at a traffic light. The light turns green, but the bad driver does not move. He was completely unprepared for the fact that — How the heck would anybody know this? — red would be followed by green. He's sitting there, baffled, like a person watching a drive-in movie with a very complicated plot. You honk your horn, but this has no effect on the bad driver; people are ALWAYS honking at him, and he never knows why. Suddenly — WHAM — the bad driver feels a jolt. Then he hears a very loud voice — your voice — coming from inside his car, saying: "EXCUSE ME! THE LIGHT IS GREEN! YOU CAN GO NOW!" This announcement would be followed, after a courtesy interval of one-tenth of a second, by tear gas.

As a motorist, I want a Carpoon NOW. And I'll tell you what else I want: A Tire Assault Vehicle. This is a real device that was featured in a publication called NASA Tech Briefs , sent in by alert reader Robert Stolpe. The Tire Assault Vehicle, or TAV, is designed to protect humans from high-pressure aircraft tires that might explode. Basically, the TAV is a remote-controlled model tank that has been modified to incorporate a video camera on top and an electric drill sticking out the front. The operator, from a safe distance, drives the TAV up to an aircraft tire and drills a hole in it, safely letting out the air.

You know how sometimes you're trying to find a space in a crowded parking lot, and you come to a car that some jerk has deliberately parked diagonally across two spaces? Can you imagine the satisfaction you'd experience if, without even having to leave the comfort and safety of your car, you could drill holes in the jerk's tires?

But that would be wrong. Property destruction is not the solution. No, it would be better to take a deep breath, calm down, wait patiently until the jerk returns to his car, and then drill holes in his shins.

Wouldn't that be great? That's why you need to tell your federal government to stop nattering about air bags and start providing you, the above-average driver, with the Tire Assault Vehicle, the Carpoon and other technology (I am not ruling out nuclear weapons) that you can REALLY use. So don't wait! Write to your congressperson NOW! Also, press the accelerator, OK?

The light is green.