PARIS — Parisian taxi drivers, already armed against hostile clients with a measure of arrogance, savvy and an occasional dog, may soon be equipping their cabs with hot seats.
Packing 52,000 volts, le siege qui brule (the seat that burns) is designed to thwart those who try to attack cab drivers.
With the push of a discreetly placed pedal, the taxi driver can send the electricity coursing for one second through the back seat, stunning the passenger with a jolt to the back of the neck.
Five prototype cabs with the seats already are cruising the city, and a cabbies' union leader hopes it will be available to all drivers who want it by the end of the year. There already are 100 more hot seats on order.
Some See Project as Demented
"It's a marvelous system," said Norbert Ben-Arous, federal secretary for the Workers' Force National Federation of Transport. "It's invisible, it's interchangeable and it's efficient."
But a representative of riders blasted the invention in a statement.
"The danger of such a demented project is obvious for anyone who is sane," said Jean-Claude Delarue of the Federation of Transport Users. "Why not also install a cobra in a cage in the back seat that the driver can open when he wants?"
Ben-Arous said the hot seat renders an attacker "groggy for about two minutes, but he doesn't lose consciousness."
Device Has Been Tested
"It's like being slugged. You can get him out of the cab, remove his weapon.
"Yes, 52,000 volts is a lot," he said with a Gallic shrug, "but it's like that."
Ben-Arous said the system would not endanger the life of anyone zapped, because although the voltage is high, the amperage is weak. He said Paris Public Hospitals tested the device on five types of pacemakers and found it harmless.
British Broadcasting Corp. reporter John Silverman, accompanied by a cardiologist, a lawyer and an insurance agent, also ran a test.
"I actually recorded it. I let out a tremendous yell," Silverman said in a telephone interview.
He said he remained professional enough to hang onto his microphone and avoid swearing. "It's pretty nasty," he said. "But within a few seconds I was OK."
'It's Pretty Nasty'
Blood pressure and electrocardiogram tests taken before and after the experience showed no noticeable difference, he said.
Made in Israel, the hot seat complies with Israel's Safety and Hygiene requirements and the Israel Standards Institute, according to a sales brochure.
The Israeli Taxi Owners Union says a few of the devices are in service in Israel.
In Paris, a woman cab driver was killed Oct. 10, bringing the number slain since 1979 to 19. There are an estimated 40 attacks per month on Paris' 14,300 taxis.
"It gives you a much greater sense of security," said Paul De Angelis, whose cab is one of the five now equipped with the hot seat. "It's a means of self-defense without being a weapon."
But Jean-Claude Marie, a Paris cabbie for the last 19 years, said he thought the electric chair could be dangerous.
"In this job, you live on the edge of your nerves," he said. "You could instinctively push the button in the middle of a simple argument. This system could go too far."
Ben-Arous, who introduced the idea to the Paris taxi world, has applied to the city for a permit to install a hot seat in the taxi of any driver wanting one. Until permission is granted, the five demonstration cabs are prohibited from turning the current on an attacker.
Undaunted by criticism, he suggests that the device could eventually be installed in commercial airplanes to short circuit a terrorist in his seat.