What Can Be Done to Prevent Deadly Car Rammings?

Palestinians and Israeli Arabs pioneered the use of the motor vehicle as a terrorist instrument several years ago. The technique has spread to Islamic terrorists around the world, most recently in Melbourne.

The man who plowed an SUV into a crowd of Christmas shoppers in Australia told cops he carried out the attack as retaliation for the “mistreatment of Muslims,” officials said Friday.

Saeed Noori, 32, injured 19 people — three critically — when he sped his vehicle into a busy intersection in downtown Melbourne outside the city’s main train station just before 5 p.m. Thursday.

Noori, an Afghan who was granted entry into Australia in 2004 as a refugee and became a citizen two years later, made the comments to police after he was arrested.

So now the Associated Press headlines: “What can be done to prevent deadly car rammings?” The AP’s solutions are technological:

As more and more terrorists use vehicles to plow into crowds, the question has arisen in the auto industry: Can advances in technology thwart future attacks? And are there other ways to prevent the ubiquitous automobile from being used as a weapon?

The proposed solution is autonomous emergency braking systems, which, as the AP acknowledges, are far from foolproof.

The short answer is there’s no foolproof way to prevent these attacks. Cars are easy to obtain, easy to use and their safety systems can be overridden. Changes have been made to improve security around buildings or landmarks viewed as potential targets — embassies, for example — but those same steps aren’t always practical for roadways and sidewalks. It’s not only an expensive proposition but virtually impossible to make every place where a pedestrian might be safe.

Apart from systems built into vehicles, what else can be done?

Terror attacks in the past few decades have led to a number of changes in building design and other features, including the installation of bollards made to withstand ramming from vehicles.

These are generally referred to as “diversity bollards.”

Because permanent barriers usually need to be anchored deeply, they aren’t generally installed on bridges, where two attacks in London occurred this year. Engineers are tackling that challenge with new synthetic materials that can withstand major impact without needing a deep anchor.

Let’s hope the engineers can keep up with the terrorists. Somehow, though, one doubts that diversity bollards will ever be a match for diversity. Completely absent from the AP’s discussion of what can be done to prevent deadly car rammings are the words Islam, Muslim, immigration and jihad. A naive observer might suggest that we focus on the terrorists who drive the cars, not on the automobiles and bollards.

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