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Break Freeway Tailgaters of the Habit

January 23, 1986|MARSHALL BERGES | Times Staff Writer

It was one of those routinely crazy days on the Santa Monica Freeway: drivers zigged and zagged, darted in and out of tight spaces, zoomed in brief bursts only to slam on brakes, then raced recklessly again--all this, presumably, to arrive at destinations 30 seconds earlier (more or less) than those who drove at less desperate speeds.

Cruising along with perhaps 15 feet separating us from the vehicle ahead, I became aware that my wife had half-turned in the passenger seat next to me. She held the palm of one hand toward the rear window of the car, as if to tell a tailgater--who appeared to be only inches away--to slow down.

Another Crisis Averted

By using her outstretched palm she occasionally has succeeded at cautioning drivers to take heed, but this one chose to ignore the suggestion. He spied an opening in an adjoining lane and rocketed past us; the crisis had been averted.

The incident marked a turning point: We arranged for installation of an additional brake light, mounted at windshield level on the rear of both our cars.

For some time the third light appeared to be effective. A staccato-like touching of the brake, just enough to cause a flashing trio of red lights at the rear of the car, seemed to caution--or at least catch the attention of--tailgaters.

Possibly its effectiveness was enhanced by its novelty. But gradually the third-light population increased, and inevitably the tailgaters grew blase again.

I can testify to this, because within a few months, despite the bright third light, I was rear-ended twice: one car was totaled, the other emerged with only minor damages.

Those experiences spurred my wife to search for an item she recalled seeing in a mail-order catalogue some years ago: a horn aimed at the rear, sounding off to warn a tailgater. She has not found it, but the search continues.

Meantime I have been sketching devices for possible adaptation to the rear end. The lines are somewhat crude--drawing is not one of my skills--but an engineer with imagination could probably turn the sketches into reality.

A Bright Idea

One of my paper-inventions consists of a string of electric bulbs, rotating as they might on a merry-go-round, and large enough to silhouette the entire car with an assembly of multicolored flashing lights, all aimed at the rear.

Another paper-invention would be a super-strong wind tunnel, to be strapped to the rear of a car. At the flick of a button it would create a jet blast of such fierce intensity that a tailgater would be thrust backward and--despite his efforts to accelerate--the jet blast would keep him at a safe distance.

Demolition Ball

Still another paper-invention would be an iron demolition ball, similar to those used by workmen to knock down old buildings. Reduced to the size of a bowling ball, concealed in a rear panel of the car, it would be activated at the press of a button, sent backward on powerful springs for a distance of perhaps five feet. After a few warning thumps on the radiator of the tailgater, the iron ball would be retracted to its concealed panel.

It would be premature to say whether these inventions or improvised versions will be adapted, and of course it is too early to know whether some legal obstacles to their use might be encountered. But let me serve notice right now to tailgaters: It would be a mistake to discount my determination.

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