MOTORING / The man who never was: A dummy companion for lone women drivers, a portable potty - Matthew Gwyther on the latest in-car accessories

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
TIME was when there were but two 'motoring accessories': string-backed gloves and a chamois leather. Times have changed. As long ago as 1955 a Chevrolet appeared on the market fitted with an internal vacuum cleaning system that drew dog-ends and ash from the ashtray and into an engine bay receptacle. Nowadays, drivers who are suckers for this sort of thing can submerge themselves in a torrent of gadgets. We took a range of the latest for a test drive, including a dashboard air freshener, tension reliever, deterrent dummy, portable car lavatory and hand-held personal breathalyser.

Unless you are a mini-cab driver whose passengers commit unspeakable acts in the back or you chain-smoke the filthiest-smelling French cigarettes, it is hard to see the need for in-car air fresheners. The market used to be dominated by those odd Feu Orange objects which hung on gold-coloured chains, but competition is now keen. Our model, from Turtle Wax Inc, was a plastic turtle whose shell you raised to increase the perfume level - in this case Wild Rose fragrance; Honeysuckle and Mountain Spruce are other options. On opening the packet it quickly filled the car with an all-pervading and sickly whiff that caught in the back of the throat. It was quickly shut away in the glove compartment.

The tension reliever was a small plastic device with multi-coloured buttons going by the name of The Road Warrior. The idea is that when another driver behaves badly on the road, you point the contraption in their direction and press a button which shouts obscenities at the offender, with the added menace of a strong Bronx accent - a sort of electronic V- sign. The gamut of insults runs from 'Look where you're going, moron', 'Move over' and 'You son-of-a-bitch' to, rather lamely, 'Road hog'. Top of the range models even have a bull horn-style loud-hailer that plugs into the cigarette lighter so you can broadcast your insults across the carriageway.

More serious in intent was the deterrent dummy. These objects are intended for use by women travelling in cars alone to make it appear that they are accompanied by a man. Ours was lent by its inventor, John Edwards, from Dorking in Surrey, an electronics engineer who used to work on the Apollo programme in the United States. It goes by the name of Car Companion and is yours for pounds 29.95 plus p&p.

Clad in a Littlewoods purple turtle-neck, the fibre glass Car Companion appeared the very image of an axe murderer in advanced rigor mortis. He certainly attracted some very odd looks from passers-by when taken out on our test drive. Had he been a little more animated, suspension of disbelief might have been easier. John Edwards is aware of the problem. 'I had thought of making the head somewhat more mobile,' he said. 'Maybe with a small motor that you could plug into the cigarette lighter. Or possibly by introducing a series of springs.' He plans to contact the Spitting Image factory for some advice on latex.

Mr Edwards also had a blow-up deterrent dummy imported from the United States. Probably manufactured in the same job lot as the Ann Summers order, this looked utterly ridiculous. Even dressed up, the ludicrous painted face with a tough-looking moustache gave everything away. On the darkest of nights the most myopic of prowlers would not have been convinced. Lone women drivers will have to remain on their guard for the time being.

En route home from Dorking a stop was made for a half-pint of shandy. The Alcoholman is one of the more controversial motoring accessories. Made in Taiwan and costing pounds 45, it is a personal breath tester. Its opponents argue that it encourages those who consistently stray close to the limit and that it is best never to combine drinking and driving. Its distributor in this country, John Stones from JMS International in Clwyd, says that it should only be used in extremis - to check on blood alcohol the morning after the night before, for example.

The half of shandy failed to register anything on the Alcoholman's meter despite several blowing attempts. (Later, on arrival home with the car safely parked, a couple of glasses of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc failed to register any reading either, which suggested it might have been malfunctioning.) Apparently, the version used by the police costs about 10 times as much as the Alcoholman. (Mr Stones, incidentally, can also lay his hands on an in-car massage kit - 'Just the thing for the lonely rep on the way home,' he told me.)

With the shandy working its way through the system, now was the time to pull over and try out the car loo. The Convenient, as its inventor calls it, is intended for those occasions when neither a visit to a formal WC nor a discreet nip into the bushes is a possibility. You could be caught short in a 15-mile tail back on the M6 or simply a child with a weak bladder. At pounds 15 a piece, or pounds 25 for the 'family pack' of two, it is also of obvious use to disabled people.

The device consists of a sterile plastic bag - the like of which you see dispensing life-saving fluid in Casualty - a series of transparent plastic pipes fitted with a one-way valve and a male or female 'applicator'. Delicacy precludes detailed description of our test. Suffice to say there were no spillages, although it was probably the most furtive piddle your tester has conducted since wetting himself on his first day at nursery school. Having a Car Companion staring into space in the back was no help. Neither was the prospect of being apprehended at the roadside by the traffic police relieving oneself into an S4 Short Tube closed system drainage bag, accompanied by a fibre glass torso, a portable breathalyser on the passenger seat and a small aromatic turtle on the dashboard. That would have taken some explaining away.

Turtle Wax air freshener, pounds 2 approximately; Car Companion, John Edwards (0306 884 006); The Alcoholman, JMS (0244 544802); The

Convenient, C C Products (0202 522260)

Comments