Cloth doll rides shotgun on Wild West freeways

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The Independent Online
FORGET Superman. Forget Batman. Californians have found a new hero to help them to navigate the perils of urban life: a life-size cloth doll equipped with a pair of shades and baseball cap.

The mission assigned to Safe-T-Man, a pigeon-chested fellow light enough to be carried about easily, is to sit in the passenger seat of a car and travel around the freeways looking as lifelike as possible, so frightening off anyone harbouring unpleasant intentions.

The idea has been conceived in Los Angeles, the world capital of the motor car, where an epidemic of carjackings has driven insurance rates sky-high. Last year there were 4,671 within the city's boundaries, an average of a dozen a day, along with a frightening list of follow-home robberies, rapes and freeway shootings.

The dummy goes on sale in department stores in the United States next month for dollars 99 (pounds 66), although, for an extra dollars 50, you can buy one which contains an internal 'screamer' alarm, triggered by a remote switch.

The dummy's rights as a road warrior have yet to be clarified. Does his presence allow his owner to use the 'car pool lane' on the freeway - a lane for cars carrying two or more people, created in an attempt to cut smog by encouraging car-sharing?

It is also unclear whether LA's criminal classes will be taken in. A list released this week by the California Highway Patrol showed that among the ways in which drivers on the freeway passed their time were reading books, changing nappies, and strumming a guitar. They did not include sitting still.