The secret button you didn't want a French taxi driver to press

The product was raising some eyebrows in France and possibly some buttocks off the back seats of Parisian taxi cabs.

A new device in 1987 allowed threatened taxi drivers to shock someone sitting in the back seat

'The blazing seat'

34 years ago
Duration 3:08
A controversial gadget aimed at keeping cab drivers safe was making headlines in France in 1987. 3:08

The product was raising some eyebrows in France and possibly some buttocks off the back seats of Parisian taxi cabs.

In 1987, a new product called "the blazing seat" was being marketed as a way of making taxi drivers' jobs safer.

The Israeli-invented product could be implanted under the upholstery in the back seat of a taxi, so that it could be triggered at a moment's notice.

"It will deliver a shock of 52,000 volts to a misbehaving client at the touch of a foot pedal," said the CBC's Sheila MacVicar, in a report that aired on The National on Nov. 4, 1987.

MacVicar said five cab drivers in Paris had installed the devices at the time of her report, while 1,000 more were on order. But not everyone was convinced they were a good idea.

'A crazy idea' ...

Jean-Claude Dela Rue said the blazing seat was a "crazy idea." (The National/CBC Archives)

"We thought that this device must have been invented by [a] mad man. It's a crazy idea, of course," said Jean-Claude Dela Rue, the head of a French government consumer group that wanted to see the product banned.

"You know, it can be very dangerous, because 52,000 volts ... can be a deadly weapon."

MacVicar said there were also fears that "irate cab drivers might use it, not only on would-be thieves, but innocent passengers they disagree with."

Several French cab drivers suggested that would not happen.

"You don't have to worry about that. We are serious people," one driver told The National.

"We know who is going to attack us. You can see it in their expressions."

... but it was not illegal

Once installed in a cab, a foot pedal could be used to fire the electric shock caused by the so-called "blazing seat." (The National/CBC Archives)

MacVicar said the French government was eyeing formal approval of the product — an arrangement that would not necessarily change much for those drivers that had embraced the use of the blazing seat already.

"Anything that is not expressly against the law here, is legal," she said.

Norbert Ben-Arous, the head of a taxi union, volunteered to sit on the blazing seat, so the media could see it was safe for use.

Norbert Ben-Arous, a French taxi union official, is seen reacting after finding out what the blazing seat device felt like. (The National/CBC Archives)

After a brief checkup with a doctor, Ben-Arous sat on the blazing seat in front of a group of journalists.

He let out a shout and bolted sideways for a moment after the shock hit his body.

"That, they say, should be enough to deter any would-be thief or killer," said MacVicar, driving home the reasons cab drivers would, in theory, want to use the device.

Norbert Ben-Arous is seen emerging from the cab, in which he'd volunteered to find out what it was like to sit on the so-called "blazing seat" safety product. (The National/CBC Archives)

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