If this gizmo had been around 25 or 30 years ago, a lot of those thrilling car-chase scenes by the likes of Steve McQueen might never have made it into the movies.
A new law enforcement device called the Stop Stick already has helped state troopers here and elsewhere end high-speed car chases before anyone could be harmed.
Troopers place the Stop Stick in a pursued vehicle's path, and when it is run over, the triangular plastic tube exposes 2-inch spikes that cut into the tires. The steel quills act as valves and gradually deflate the tires, letting the driver make a controlled stop instead of experiencing a "catastrophic blowout," according to the manufacturer.
"The Stop Stick is a fantastic solution because it terminates pursuit instantly without endangering any uninvolved vehicles," State Police Sgt. John M. Reinholz said.
In the past, troopers faced no-win situations.
"If we pursued a vehicle and there was an accident, well, it was the troopers' fault because we were the pursuers," Reinholz said. "And if we terminated a pursuit and then the motorist continued speeding . . . and there was an accident, we were blamed for not stopping the motorist."
What prompted state police to begin a pilot program testing the Stop Stick two months ago was a 1996 chase involving a tractor-trailer driver who hit speeds of over 100 mph in three states.
"He started in Ohio, up through Pennsylvania to New York, and nobody could stop him. He passed through the Williamsville toll barrier at 65 mph and finally wound up driving into Irondequoit Bay off Route 590 in Rochester," Reinholz said.
Twice, troopers on the Thruway from Rochester to the Pennsylvania state line have used the device. One incident involved an alleged drunken driver who was apprehended after his pickup truck ran over the stick at the Williamsville toll plaza.
In the second incident, the driver brought his vehicle to a halt when he noticed a trooper who had placed the device in the road, Reinholz said, adding that a supervisor must authorize its use.
"The supervisor will radio to a trooper ahead of the pursuit, who will lay down the Stop Stick. After the vehicle runs over it, the trooper pulls in a rope attached to the Stop Stick so other vehicles don't run over it," the sergeant said.
The Stop Stick was invented in 1993 by retired Indiana State Trooper Ken Greves. It sells for $369 per set of three 3-foot-long sections.
"We have 1,600 police agencies using it throughout the country, and, to date, we've had 1,053 hits with motorists running over the Stop Stick," said Michael Johnson, a spokesman for Stop Stick Ltd. of Lawrenceburg, Ind.