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What are Spike Strips?

By Ron Marr
Updated May 16, 2024
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There are few things that law enforcement officers dislike more than a high-speed chase. They realize the dangers inherent to innocent bystanders, the objects of the pursuit, and themselves. Thus, they seek the quickest, safest method available to disable and stop a fleeing perpetrator.

In most cases, the method of choice is commonly known as the spike strip. Also known as stingers or Stop Sticks®, the device is a strip of sharp spikes, laid horizontally across a highway, that are designed to deflate all four tires of a speeding vehicle. Spike strips are highly effective, and have been found to cause the least amount of damage possible to both persons and property.

Usually the nearly three inch (7.5 cm) spikes are hollow, rather than solid. They are crafted in such a manner as to avoid major accidents. If the spikes were made of steel, or some other solid material, they would cause tires to blowout. At high speeds, a multiple-tire blowout would almost certainly lead to an accident, with a good possibility of serious injury or loss of life.

The hollow spikes, on the other hand, tend to impale themselves in the tires and cause them to slowly deflate. The chase might last slightly longer, as a vehicle will be able to travel a short distance before the tires are completely flat. However, hollow spikes greatly lower the odds of human injury.

Spike strips have other uses than rapidly stopping a vehicle during a high-speed chase. They can also be used as a method of traffic control. Some spike strips are designed with hinges. A vehicle can drive over them in one direction with no harm to tires, and the barbs will simply fold flat. However, the vehicle is not capable of backing up, for the spikes have sprung back to their normal angle. If such is attempted, the tires will be punctured and flattened.

One-way spike strips have been used in areas where single direction traffic is mandatory. Sometimes they will be seen in parking garages, or in buildings that require a certain degree of first-line security. In years past, a variation of the spike strip, known as treadles, were occasionally located at the entrances and exits of drive-in movie theaters.

However, by far the most frequent use of the spike strip occurs during high-speed pursuit. Normally, the spikes are affixed to a lightweight flat strip of material, such as nylon. On one end, is a long cord. After a vehicle has run over the strip, the law enforcement officer simply pulls the strip off the highway, avoiding inadvertent damage to other vehicles.

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Discussion Comments

By mrwormy — On Jun 06, 2014

I had to make some deliveries in a very big city, and I wasn't familiar with those one way spike strips at some parking decks. I realized I didn't need to park my car at one place and just decided to back up to get on the road again. I heard a huge popping noise and the attendant came running out of his booth. Both of my back tires were impaled on those spikes. I only had one spare tire, so I had to call for roadside assistance and get another tire installed on the company vehicle.

It pays to watch for signs that warn drivers about severe tire damage if they back up. I learned my lesson that day.

By Cageybird — On Jun 05, 2014

I've often wondered why the speeding cars rarely have a blowout when they run over spike strips on Cops and other police shows. I didn't realize those spikes were hollow until I read this article. It seems like a lot of those cars do end up pulling over in a controlled stop after their tires go flat.

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