I'm looking to identify a science fiction short story. I originally read it in highschool during the 1990s, but it was likely published much earlier, possibly in the 70s.

A young man is taking his date on a car ride under manual controls on the roads, instead of automatic computer controls, possibly in the sky? They're pulled over by the police for a minor infraction, and because they're under manual control, the punishment was death to both occupants of the car.

It has the same kind of feel as the Cold Equations, where the punishment doesn't seem to fit the crime, except that they are explicitly "breaking" the normal rules of conduct.

  • Was the method of execution disassembly for organs?
    – Spencer
    Dec 16, 2021 at 18:23
  • 2
    @Spencer No, the boy and his girlfriend are executed at the side of the road by the robot policeman who stops them after they run a red light. It's on the tip of my tongue...
    – DavidW
    Dec 16, 2021 at 18:28
  • I think @Spencer had the same thought as me: several of Larry Niven's Known Space novels and short stories reference an extreme approach to punishment driven by the public's desire for organ transplants...
    – AdamT
    Dec 16, 2021 at 18:32
  • @DavidW Oh well, I've posted wronger answers.
    – Spencer
    Dec 16, 2021 at 18:33
  • 1
    DavidW / Lorendiac same! Also, posted answer clearly wrong. Dec 17, 2021 at 13:12

2 Answers 2


William F. Nolan, "Violation". Story fits the question and all comments. A robot policeman waits in the ambush on the road with randomly set red light. After a couple pass through the light (due to some sort of fight between them) they are topped and executed on sight by some sort of desintegrator beam. The story is written from cop's viewpoint.

The rider cuts the flow of desperate words. “You forfeited your Citizen’s Right of Exception when you allowed a primary emotion- anger, in this instance—to affect your control of a surface vehicle. Thus, my duty is clear.”
The man’s eyes widen in shock as the rider brings up a belt weapon. “You can’t possibly—”
“I’m hereby authorized to perform this action per the 1990 Overpopulation Statute with regard to surface violators. Your case is closed.”
And he presses the trigger.
Again and again and again. Three long, probing blue jets of star-hot flame leap from the weapon in the rider’s hand.
The man is gone. The woman is gone. The car is gone.
The street is empty and silent. A charred smell of distant suns lingers in the morning air.

  • 1
    That's the one! I don't have any of those anthologies in my collection though, I wonder where I read it.
    – DavidW
    Dec 18, 2021 at 12:47
  • Nice! I had Future City at some point, I think. Yeah, looking at the covers on isfdb, I had the one with the skeleton in the helmet. Dec 18, 2021 at 13:38
  • This is definitely it. I remember specifically the part about losing control of the surface vehicle, and the overpopulation act. Thank you very much for solving this mystery for me!
    – Nick
    Dec 23, 2021 at 4:15

This sounds like "The Jigsaw Man" (1967) by Larry Niven.

In a near-future Earth, the demand for spare organs is so great that the method of execution has been changed to dissassembly for organs, and more and more crimes, even minor ones, are assigned the death penalty as punishment.

The story's protagonist is being held pending trial for a capital offense.

We're not told what the offense is at the beginning.

At the end, however, after the protagonist is recaptured and sent for trial on the original charge, we find out it's repeated traffic offenses. They don't bother with the other stuff he did.

  • @Nick Actually, I want people to read the story to find out what the other stuff is. It doesn't affect the answer's relevance to the question.
    – Spencer
    Dec 16, 2021 at 19:34
  • @spenser. Then alluding to 'other stuff' should at least say significant crimes
    – infixed
    Dec 16, 2021 at 19:36
  • 3
    This is not it. The Jigsaw Man's main crime was jaywalking (crossing a road against signals or where there is no established crossing). Dec 17, 2021 at 4:44
  • The Jigsaw man's offenses were speeding on multiple occasions, once by as much as 15mph, and running a red light once. He was not arrested with his girlfriend, was not executed on the spot, and had a trial. No robot policeman was involved. Similar, but not a match. Dec 19, 2021 at 3:49
  • @DavidSiegel It's necessary to send up these trial balloons, in case OP misrembered something. Notice that OP did not mention "executed on the spot"; you conflated DavidW's comment into your picture of the story.
    – Spencer
    Dec 19, 2021 at 14:08

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.