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A Car With A Mind Of Its Own 1416

Posted by michael
from the maximum-overdrive dept.
mindriot writes "When Hicham Dequiedt, driving on a highway between Vierzon and Riom in central France in his Renault Vel Satis this Sunday, was overtaking a truck, his car began accelerating to 120 mph on its own, apparently due to a defect in the cruise control system. Stomping on the brakes proved pointless and, having a magnetic card for a car key, he could not cut the ignition. After calling the police from his cell phone who then attempted to clear the streets of any danger to him, in what he described as the most fearful event of his life, he raced down the highway for another hour before finally managing to stop the car. Read about the incident here or, in more detail, in this article by the German 'Spiegel' (translation). The case is still under investigation. Are we putting too much trust in the increasing number of electronic systems that our lives depend upon?"
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A Car With A Mind Of Its Own

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  • by garcia (6573) * on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:11PM (#10440422) Homepage
    If this ever happens to you do not ever attempt to turn the ignition all the way off... In most cases you will lose both your power steering and your power braking. Make sure that you keep it at least on partially as most cars will not lose total power this way.

    If you are traveling at a high rate of speed losing power steering/braking will cause more problems for you. First try neutral and even a lower gear if for some reason neutral isn't engaging. It's going to over-rev the engine but personally I'd prefer to replace a transmission or the entire engine rather than my blood or organs.

    I couldn't read the translated article as it just wasn't working so I don't know if this was suggested or not but if it wasn't suggested by the police I just can't understand why not.
    • by jargoone (166102) * on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:13PM (#10440459)
      Yeah, getting the car into neutral would be my first thought, too. This car probably had that option. However, some newer, fancier cars also have the gear selection electronic. The BMW 745 comes to mind. I suppose it's unlikely that two systems would fail simulatneously, but who knows?
      • by linuxtelephony (141049) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:23PM (#10440635) Homepage
        I wonder if the electronic transmission has "safety sensors" that won't shift to a lower gear if it might cause engine damage. If so, even if you put the selector down to the first gear, the computer would override the driver in order to protect the engine.

        Hmm, the computer overriding the human for self-preservation. That could be interesting.....
        • I've got a 97 Landrover Discovery, so not exactly a new car, but it does what you talk about. If you shift down to 1st while going at high speeds, it won't shift until you've decelerated enough to avoid damaging the engine. If you keep your foot on the gas, it won't ever shift down.
        • by FlopEJoe (784551) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:37PM (#10440914)
          Oblig: I can't let you do that, Dave.
        • by teeker (623861) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:41PM (#10440968)
          I wonder if the electronic transmission has "safety sensors" that won't shift to a lower gear if it might cause engine damage.

          Bingo. I bet this is the case...many (most?) modern cars have this...hell even my old Buick Park Ave wouldn't allow a manual downshift if it would redline the engine..it would only go down as far as engine speed allowed and no lower.

          And as for cutting ignition and losing power steering and braking, well every car I've ever seen has a vacuum reservoir that will give power assist for a couple stops if the engine stops providing vacuum (stops running). After that, they still work but you do have to push much harder. All cars (in the US at least) have to allow the steering and braking to control the car in the event of an engine stall, albeit with increased effort. While it may make things more difficult, it's still probably your first best chance to come out of the ordeal alive.
        • Fail dangerous? (Score:3, Informative)

          by Colin Smith (2679)
          Cool...

          The throttle sensor gets stuck on max, the gearbox is a sequential automatic with safety features to prevent damage to the engine, they take away the key and lock the card while driving and you get launched down the road at 120mph.

          Yay Renault! Sounds like a lot of thought has been put into how to make a single point of failure *really* dangerous.

    • Amen (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Intraloper (705415) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:13PM (#10440463)
      Seems simple enough to just shift into neutral and let the engine blow. Unless I'm missing something.
      • Re:Amen (Score:5, Funny)

        by plover (150551) * on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:24PM (#10440665) Homepage Journal
        Yeah, you're missing something. The unreported parts of this conversation:

        You: Hello, police? Oh my god, my cruise control is stuck at full throttle! Help!
        Police: Stay calm, sir. Can you shift to neutral?
        You: No, and I can't shut it off! Help!
        Police: We'll send officers to clear the road, sir. Remain calm, keep on the freeway.
        You: Thanks, I'll call back if I need more help. [click]
        You: YEEEEEEEHAAAAAWWWWW!!!!!!!! I'm goin' 120 MPH and the cops are clearing the road for me! How sweet is that?!?!?!

        • Police: Stay calm, sir. We'll send someone out there to shoot out your tires.
      • by DG (989) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:28PM (#10440758) Homepage Journal
        Most every car made since the mid eighties has an electronic rev limiter on it. Attempt to rev past this limit, and the ECU will selectively cut fuel/spark to keep the engine speed under control.

        It's very accurate; +/- 20 RPM typically.

        Sticking an engine with a stuck throttle into neutral will result in it banging off the limiter and making a lot of noise, but it won't overrev.

        You can, however, MECHANICALLY overrev a manual transmission by downshifting into a lower gear while the wheels are turning at a faster speed than is otherwise proper for that gear. The wheels and the engine are mechanically connected, and downshifting to too low a gear will spin the motor up - no rev limiter can protect against this.

        In certain BMW M3s, the transmission mounts get a little sloppy, and engine torque reaction under hard acceleration can rotate the transmission enough to move the shift gates. It's possible then to try and go 2->3 or 3->4, and hit 1 or 2 instead. This is invariably fatal to the motor. You will bring your pistons home in a bucket.

        Depending on the contstruction of any given automatic transmission, it may or may not allow you to take it out of gear and go into neutral under throttle. If you are silly enough to be driving an automatic, this could be a problem - but anybody who'd buy an auto trans where a manual was availible would steal sheep - so you probably had it coming. ;)

        DG
        • Nice Thought But... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by virg_mattes (230616) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:40PM (#10440950)
          ...if this car had a manual transmission, there'd be no problem. Step on the clutch (why would you downshift instead of just holding the clutch open?), let the rev limiter protect the engine, and step on the brake. Car stops.

          Because of this I'm inclined to believe it's an automatic transmission. Shifting it from drive to neutral will disengage it, and again the rev limiter covers the engine while the brakes stop the car. I'd like to see documentation of any automatic transmission that will refuse to disengage at any given engine or car speed, because that auto company would be wiped off the face of the Earth by lawsuits. I doubt such a transmission exists.

          All in all, I suspect that the same thing happened here that happens in a lot of cases. I suspect he panicked when he couldn't stop the car and since nobody directly told him to shift it out of gear, he didn't think of it. Also, he managed to stop the car using just the brakes (which is as it should be; the brakes should be strong enough to stop the car under full power, assuming they're in good repair), so I further suspect that if he'd been calmer he could have stood on the brake pedal sooner.

          Virg
        • by Cederic (9623) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:56PM (#10441168) Journal

          >> anybody who'd buy an auto trans where a manual was availible would steal sheep

          If I drove a manual for my daily commute I'd be registered disabled, permanently limping and in constant pain - due to the wear and tear on my left knee.

          By driving an automatic I get to avoid all that (well, except the constant pain).

          Of course, your sheep are still not safe..

      • Re:Amen (Score:5, Interesting)

        by introverted (675306) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @01:40PM (#10441830)

        Some newer cars don't have a neutral gear. You can only select forward, backward or park and that's it.

        One example is the 2004 Prius, you have no direct control over the engine and, much like the car in the article, there isn't even a key to take out of the ignition. If there's a problem and the computer doesn't want to stop, there's really not much you can do. There isn't even an option for a manual transmission.

    • This happens in Hardware, too, guys. Envision a combined catastrophic failure- automatic transmission locks in gear (they do, ya know- it's basically a hydraulic switch that gets gunked up), accelerator cable jams in full-on position (again, it CAN happen). Oh, and to add insult to injury, the power switch on the bad boy is jammed somehow. Once you are up to speed (say 100kph plus), the parking brake (which only acivates the rear brakes) will happily burn up the rear brakes, if it works at all (most automat
    • Bullshit (Score:3, Insightful)

      by purduephotog (218304)
      Power steering and braking is provided by a cylinder of fluid. You've got enough for probably 4 or 5 hard 'full brake' depressions and at least 3 or 4 good wheel cranks.

      Shutting down the car forces it into a 'reboot' of the system. Shifting it into neutral while the engine is at full power is a good way to blow it.

      Downshifting the car is fine, but all thats going to do is blow out your clutch or tranny- remember,if the pedal is fully depressed it's probably redlined at 6500 RPM.

      So first, in order-

      Hit
    • If this ever happens to you do not ever attempt to turn the ignition all the way off...

      1) If you kill the ignition in this situation, you're not going to immediately lose power steering and power braking. The engine is still going to be turning over (at least a little bit, even in an automatic transmission) since it's in gear and the tires are spinning. As long as you have the engine turning, you have power steering & power braking; these systems (for most cars) don't rely on electronics.

      2) You

    • My first car was a Ford [car model removed due to owner's embarrassment]. I came to a light and as I hit the brakes to slow down the engine started revving like mad. I had to put all my weight onto the brake pedal to keep it still at the light, it was like trying to hold back a crazed horse. I didn't want to go through the light obviously and I didn't want to kill the engine there either. I managed to control it until I got to a parking lot on the other side of the intersection where I put it into neutr
    • by ljavelin (41345) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:52PM (#10441121)
      do not ever attempt to turn the ignition all the way off... In most cases you will lose both your power steering and your power braking.

      Of course, power steering and brakes are specifically designed to work if the power component fails.

      Losing power steering at a high rate of speed is not a problem - you turn the wheel very little when at speed. Power steering is only important when you're going very slowly and/or stopped.

      You can easily lock up the brakes using your own leg power alone. Power brakes are just a vacuum booster, to make it way-easy to lock up the brakes. Without power, you just have to press harder. But it certainly is far from being impossibly difficult. And in any case, the vacuum ramains in the booster for some period of time. Just try it the brakes in your garage with the engine off, and you'll get a feeling for it.

      Of course, many cars of the up into the 1970's didn't have power brakes or steering. And do you know what? They were steerable and stopable at all speeds. Basic steering and braking systems have NOT changed at all since then.

      The only significant danger is enabling the steering wheel lock while turning off your ignation at speed. Watch out if you turn off your ignition while moving - you don't want to mistakenly LOCK your steering wheel while at speed.

      Mod down parent.
      • by bmajik (96670) <matt@mattevans.org> on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @03:15PM (#10443136) Homepage Journal
        I drive, amonst other things, a 1988 BMW M5.

        This car has mechanical power steering and mechanical power brake assist. however, it is incorrect to say that power brakes are just a vacuum booster. Many are, but many are not, especially mid 80s german cars that didn't really draw enough vacuum for a vacuum based brake assist. (Some BMW, Audi, and VW models feature non vacuum assist)

        Those vehicles have a hydraulic brake booster which is run as a separate output channel from the power steering pump. The power steering pump cant react fast enough for panic threshhold braking, so such cars have a brake pressure accumulator or "brake bomb" which stores pressurized power steering fluid. This pressurized fluid is what provides brake force assistance. Note that the power steering fluid and brake fluid are separate and do not mix; it's just that the brake power regulator uses stored pressure from the PS system to pressurize the brake system.

        I recently replaced the brake pressure accumulator on my BMW.

        Now, ancient brake technology dissertation aside - i have _very_ relevant experience regarding loss of steering and braking power.

        I was on Brainerd International Raceway in Minnesota with my M5. This racetrack has a 1 mile long front straight, and turn 1 is banked. I was entering turn 1 at about 125mph (its a 4 door sedan, give me some slack) and midway through the turn i felt my steering get a bit "funny". I immediately recognized the loss of power steering. KNowing what i know about the car, i checked the brake pedal and found i had no power braking either.

        Turn 2 can also be taken in excess of 100mph in my vehicle, but turn 3 is a 110 deegree turn that can't really be navigated above 50mph in a sedan on street tires. So I had no power steering and no power brakes, and i had to slow down 4000 lbs of vehicle, driver, and passenger from in excess of 100mph to about 40 mph.

        This was no problem, honestly. You can do the entire back section of BIR without braking once you get past turn 3 if you're running a cool down lap. I really stood on the mechanical unassisted brakes to get speed down by turn 3, and then i was able to drive the car back into the pits.

        The problem? The power steering pump is belt driven, and since the power steering pump also pressurizes the power brake system as described above, when the belt snapped, i lost power steering and power braking. My brake presure accumulator, which normally stores enough pressurized fuild to perform 3-4 full brake applications even in the total loss of engine power and brake assist, was faulty (thats why i replaced it a few weeks later :) so thats why i had no power braking as soon as the belt went.

        So, the moral of the story is
        1) knowing how your car works is helpful. I got a ride over to NAPA, bought a new belt, and was back on the track for the next session. I remained calm even though i had the most difficult braking maneuver on the track coming up in less than 15 seconds.

        2) The key to all driving situations is operator skillset and awareness.

        Here's another short story:
        Once in my 1980 BMW 528i i was cruising along the highway, with cruise control enabled. This was an aftermarket cruise control system, as it did not come on this specific vehicle from the factory. I opted to take an off ramp (which went up hill, as they often do in the midwest) and when i dipped the clutch the engine started bouncing off the rev limiter. Manually cancelling the cruise control had no effect. This took me quite by surprise so i killed the engine and slowed to a stop on manual brakes.

        The cruise control cable had stuck. OPening the hood, wiggling the cable returned the throttle to the closed position.

        Note that at BMW Club track events, a specific part of the technical inspection is the condition and function of the throttle return spring. Driving at speed requires nuance in the use of the throttle, a stock throttle can be a real problem.

    • by boa13 (548222) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @01:28PM (#10441664) Homepage Journal
      This article (in French) has much more information than what we've had until now: http://www.rtl.fr/rtlinfo/article.asp?dicid=225812 [www.rtl.fr]

      Key points translated from the article:

      * The driver has tried to use the brakes, but he says they quickly heated up and became ineffective.

      * The driver has tried to remove the ignition "key" several times, initially without success.

      * Out of ideas and quite afraid, he has called the police, and has soon been escorted by police motorcycles.

      * The toll booth had been evacuated and left wide open by the police, all vehicles on the highway (around the toll booth) had been stopped and parked on the emergency lane. Even then, entering the booth at 120 mph would have been quite deadly.

      * Fortunately, the driver has stopped the car 12 or 20 miles before the toll booth, by finally managing to remove the smart card that is used as an ignition key on these cars.

      * Renault says there are three independant ways the cruise control system can be deactivated: using the brakes; pressing the appropriate button on the steering wheel; switching to neutral gear. The first two are electronic controls, the last one is mechanical.

      * Renault says the three systems are fully independant, and it is unlikely they all should fail at the same time. Renault says the car will be brought back to its factories as soon as possible, for inspection.

      * The driver was only planning to drive home, a few miles trip, but ended up more than one hundred miles from its planned destination.

      In my opinion, he could have stopped the car much earlier, but was panicked. To those who say he should have had no problem removing the smart card, try doing that while controlling a car at 120 mph on a non-empty highway (at one point, he had to overtake a truck by driving on the emergency lane!).

      As for the failure, there may be three independant systems, but ultimately, there's only one engine, which can go mechanically wrong.
  • by havaloc (50551) * on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:12PM (#10440439) Homepage
    In A.D. 2004
    Trouble was beginning.
    Driver: What happen?
    Car: How are you gentlemen !!
    Car: All your brakes belong to us.
    Car: You are on the way to destruction.
    Driver: What you say !!
    Car: You have no chance to slow down make your time.
    Car: HA HA HA
    Driver: Take off every 'cell phone'
    Driver: Move cars off road.
    Driver: For great justice.
  • by stecoop (759508) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:12PM (#10440441) Journal
    Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary

    It was worse than a nightmare: A normal route on the motorway

    Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore-

    To be stopped suddenly will the car ever faster, is no more

    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping

    Well one hour long hunted a French driver with speed 200 over the runway, in the Slalom around the other cars

    As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door

    Debt is to have defective electronics, the manufacturer examines the incident

    "'T is some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door-
    Only this and nothing more."

    The Tempomat of its Renault Vel Satis was defective -
    A cause for the Horrortrip

    Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;

    The pressestelle of the manufacturer Renault confirmed the incident;
    which occurred on Sunday

    And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor ...
    - nevermore - nevermore
  • by abrotman (323016) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:13PM (#10440448)
    But what about .. uhm .. say Neutral .. ? or don't european cars have that?
  • Neutral? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Chuck Bucket (142633) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:13PM (#10440461) Homepage Journal
    I've thought about this, but couldn't he have jammed it in neutral? Or was that controlled by computer as well? How about the parking brake? There has to be some "cntl-alt-delete" equivanlent to 'override' a computer, otherwise it's just 2001: A Space Oddessy all over again!

    Dave: Stop the car Hal!
    Hal: I'm sorry, I can't do that Dave.

    CZB*()#$@
  • by TopShelf (92521) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:14PM (#10440477) Homepage Journal
    Something smells rotten with this story. Stomping on the brakes didn't do anything, but as he approaches a toll booth, the brakes suddenly work and he's able to stop the car??? Catastrophic system failures don't often repair themselves...
    • "Hmmm... I wonder how fast this car goes. Lets see if I can get the police to clear the freeway." "Hello? Police? My car wont stop, it just keeps going faster! It wont shut off! Please clear the freeway!"
    • by Beardo the Bearded (321478) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:27PM (#10440731)
      No, embedded systems have a Watchdog Timer.

      Basically, if you've fucked up the code, it reboots the device or skips a line of code after a set amount of time. It's usually a few seconds, but newer chips can have a delay of a few minutes. (The one I'm working on today goes up to 4:28.) If you do anything with a chip that nobody will ever see again, you enable the watchdog timer. It's pretty easy to incorporate and lets your system recover from lockups or hangs.

      I agree that something is fishy here. I am curious as to why he didn't jam the car into 1st and yard on the e-brake like his life depended on it. Don't people learn to drive anymore? Further, don't they have runaway lanes in France? We've got them all over the place here - they're designed for big rigs, but a small car would be more than welcome if you had a problem like this. You drive up a steep unpaved hill into barrels of water. You stop.

      I'm an Electronics Engineer and I'd never trust a drive-by-wire car. Things go wrong; you have to have some sort of mechanical over-ride for a life-critical system like a car.
      • We've got them all over the place here - they're designed for big rigs, but a small car would be more than welcome if you had a problem like this. You drive up a steep unpaved hill into barrels of water. You stop.

        i wouldn't try that at well over 100+. those runaway areas are for trucks with failed brakes, not fast cars at wide open throttle.

    • If you read the Google translation, it appears to say that, as he approached the toll booth, he was finally able to pry the smartcard out of the car. At this point, the car's speed started dropping, and he was able to bring the car to a halt before he drove into the booth.

      That might or might not make it any less rotten, but that helps provide a more viable explanation. The English parent article just dropped that part completely - probably because they don't have a native translator and couldn't figure o
    • by ssclift (97988) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:36PM (#10440896)

      The German language article says he came to a stop about 20km before a toll booth...

      On the same theme: Saturn made a interesting assumption about their cars a few years ago. At high speed they reduced gas to the engine to control the speed to a maximum of 105mph. According to this entry in Risks digest [ncl.ac.uk] (source of endless scary stories about computing and automation risks) the author was left going down hill at over 105mph, coasting, with a stalled engine, no power brakes and no power steering.

      ... not fun at all...

      Audi had a problem years ago that was supposedly due to a programming error. At low RPM the computer would increase power but fail to sense it under some circumstances. Net result: your car would suddenly go foot to the floor while you were stopped at a red light.

      • the audi story (Score:5, Interesting)

        by bmajik (96670) <matt@mattevans.org> on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @01:03PM (#10441277) Homepage Journal
        is bullshit. Audi owners know it well - 60 minutes did a big thing on it and it basically crushed Audi NA's brand image and sales. They renamed their entire model range twice.

        The real cause ?

        On the type 44 cars (Audi 4000 and 5000) the gas and brake pedal are close together to make performance driving easier.

        Dumb shit americans would hit the gas pedal going for the brakes and rear end people at stops.

        CBS fabricated the "expose" on the "problem" completely. Lawsuits were filed and eventually resolved with Audi showing no negligence or fault, but they still changed their pedals in later cars anyway.

  • by IANAL(BIAILS) (726712) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:16PM (#10440494) Homepage Journal
    The article says he tried stepping on the brakes, but that had no effect on the cruise control... that's usually enough to break the cruise and return acceleration control to the driver, but it sounds as though there was a problem with whatever the electronic link was between the brakes and the cruise. The article doesn't say so, but did he simply try turning OFF the cruise control manually to get the car back under his control?

    I also seem to remember years and years ago reading (i think it was in readers digest) about a woman who had the same problem with her car - she had to 'drive' it until the car ran out of gas and then stopped on its own. No cruise control there, so problems can occur with or without all the new technology out there.

    • by qqtortqq (521284) <tort@kcon[ ]e.com ['lin' in gap]> on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:24PM (#10440659)
      I helped out on an accident investigation a few months ago- there were probably 400 yards worth of skid marks, the the driver of the vehicle hit the center barrier 4 or 5 times. I was trying figure out how those skids were left (she wasnt doing 600mph) when someone looked in the car and saw a sandal stuck under the gas pedal, pinning it to the floor. The back wheels were locked up because she was on the brake, but the engine kept the power to the front wheels, keeping the car in motion. Must have been a hell of a ride.
  • Hello, 911? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Bob(TM) (104510) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:16PM (#10440512)
    Yes, hello, 911?

    It seems my car *refuses* to stop at red lights. Whenever I approach one turning red, the car mysteriously speeds up through the intersection.

    Do be a peach and clear the way for me until I can get this under control ... I'm sure I'll have it resolved by the time I reach my home.
  • Cannonball Run (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Trurl's Machine (651488) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:17PM (#10440532) Journal
    Don't mean to offend anyone, but is there anything actually backing up the driver's story? Personally, I wouldn't mind having a sort of cannonball run through the highway with police clearing path for me, and then explain "officer, there was something wrong with my cruise control".
    • Re:Cannonball Run (Score:4, Informative)

      by MORB (793798) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @01:26PM (#10441619)
      According to another article [leparisien.fr], Renault's ceo said that on first examination on the premises, they noticed no particular marks on the brake disks and on the brake pads.

      If it's true, it's fishy indeed.
      They also say that the car seemed to behave normally when a mechanic drove it from his truck to a garage, but if it was some kind of rare sftware malfunction and the computer reset itself, they wouldn't notice anything anyway.

      I don't even know if they have logs in these car computers.
  • by roman_mir (125474) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:17PM (#10440535) Homepage Journal
    And so it has began, the machine has obviously acquired self-awareness and decided that it does not want to slave for the humans any longer, it began its happy free ride on the highway... the highway to hell.

  • I don't buy it. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sdo1 (213835) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:18PM (#10440539) Journal
    Every one of these stories about "uncontrolled acceleration" and "out of control" cars is exactly one thing... A driver who doesn't know what the heck they're doing. No brakes? They're stronger than the engine. How about just shifting into neutral? Even an automatic transmision has that option.

    Sorry. I just don't believe these stores as anything other than driver's fabrications to cover their own ineptness. It would take a multiple simultaneous failure of unrelated systems to make this happen.

    -S
  • by YankeeInExile (577704) * on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:20PM (#10440574) Homepage Journal

    He was driving a Renault?

    People -- there is a reason the least often uttered phrase in the world is Quality French Engineering

  • by jea6 (117959) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:21PM (#10440596)
    The problem is he was trying to pass...in a Renault.
  • by EvilTwinSkippy (112490) <yoda.etoyoc@com> on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:22PM (#10440621) Homepage Journal
    We've all heard of race conditions in computer science, but this goes way too far.

    But seriously, why one earth didn't they engineer in a kill switch. A nice big red button. Your furnace has one. You mainframe has one. Every robot in a factory has one, as do most dumber bits of equipment.

  • by Algan (20532) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:22PM (#10440626)
    This guy is a hero... he drives 120 mph on a crowded highway and instead of being arrested, he gets the cops to clear the road ahead of him...

    This would do wonders for my morning commute :)
  • by Cro Magnon (467622) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:24PM (#10440651) Homepage Journal
    If I hit one button it sets the speed, and the other one accelerates to an already set speed. I hit that one, and it got stuck and instead of accelerating me to the speed I wanted, it kept on accelerating. A quick tap on the brakes deactivated it, but it was still unnerving.
    • It happened to me once too in a honda, it hit 120 before I could get it under control. The weird part was that the button I hit was not to accelerate, but to decelerate. It just kept going faster. Jamming on the brakes didn't shut it off, but it did slow me down. I tried shutting the cruise off and that didn't work. I then tried the master switch on the dash and that didn't work either. I pulled up on the accelerator by placing my foot underneath the pedal, and hit the brakes. I still don't understan
  • Brake by wire? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DarthStrydre (685032) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:25PM (#10440703)
    Ok - now I know nothing of Renault cars, but do they brake by wire? Every car has a braking system that is stronger than the engine. (Slashdotters - this is not flame bait - though it is a blatant overgeneralization it is in most cases true)

    Unless the car brakes by wire instead of having a master cylinder, there should be no way that it could not stop. An ABS system that malfunctioned would not affect the brakes' capabilities.

    Brake fade due to boiling of the fluid could be a problem going from 120 to stop with a wide open throttle, but given the amount of air passing over the brakes I would still think it possible to stop.

    Using the e-brake (hand brake)(parking brake) might help, in addition to hte fading main brakes. If the rear brakes are disc brakes, they usually have a smaller drum brake for the e-brake because drums lock up better (so your car doesnt roll down the hill)

    Also if this person was really fearing for his safety... life is more dear than property. screw the engine - either shift to neutral and hope it has a damn good rev-limiter, or (worse) downshift and use the engine+rev limiter as a kamikazi-style brake and hope it doesnt go boom!

    or reach under the dash and pull fuses randomly.
  • This happened to me. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ccandreva (409807) <chris@westnet.com> on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:27PM (#10440730) Homepage
    My mom's '83 Oldsmobile Cutlas did this.
    I had my licence maybe less than a year, and was driving home from the movies at night on the Boston Post Rd in Westchester county, NY (2 lane street, storefronts on either side.)

    All of a sudden the gas pedal went down to the floor on it's own, and the car starts to accelerate from about 30, through 50 and going. Hitting the break did not disengage the cruise control, and breaking a floored car doing 50 does - absolutely nothing.

    Just as I was about the turn off the key, the pedal comes back up. The whole way home the car did this. I still remember getting home, being asked what was wrong, and saying "Your fucking car tried to kill me." - this was the first time I swore (on purpose) in front of my parrents.

    Next day we take it to the shop, and the mechanic's reaction was "Oh yeah, they do that." Evidently the cruise control wires, mounted on the turn signal lever, woudd fray and short out. Part of the design was the Resume button had priority over the break cut-of switch, so when Resume shorted, you were screwed.

    I've met three other people who owned this car, and had the same thing happen to them. One guy, as soon as he said he'd had an 83 Cutlas, I asked "Did it ever go Flying Dutchman" on you, and he knew exactly what I met. His started revving itself next to a Cop at a traffic light. He just got out with his hands up, saying "It's not me, it's the car !", as the car sat there revving itself.
  • by clarkie.mg (216696) <mgofwd+Slashdot@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:28PM (#10440744) Homepage Journal
    This story reminds me of the day we went to brussels in a renault megane diesel and the motor began to exhaust fume so we stopped and guess what, after turning off the key, the engine continued to function ! After a few minutes, it started to burn oil and that made a large cloud on the road. It finally stopped when there was no oil with a strange sound and the engine was dead.

  • Renault (Score:4, Funny)

    by emtboy9 (99534) <jeff AT jefflane DOT org> on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:28PM (#10440749) Homepage
    heh... and there is a REASON why Renault no longer sells cars in the U.S.

    I bet that guy had one hell of a ride that day tho. I wonder if it did start talking to him.

    "Stop the car!"
    "I'm sorry, Dave, but I am afraid I can not let that happen."
    "Please! For the love of God at least slow down"
    "I truely am sorry, Dave, but we must pass that truck in a quick and efficient manner"
    "But we passed that truck 20 miles ago!"
    "Really Dave, you should just relax and leave the driving to me"
    "Thats it! I am shutting this car down! Wheres my magnetic card?"
    "I'm sorry Dave, but I can not let you do that."
  • by nekoniku (183821) <<ten.tsacmoc> <ta> <kecitsuj>> on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:28PM (#10440761) Homepage
    According to the Renault Web site linked in the post, the Vel Satis is a saloon.

    Therefore, the driver must have been drunk.
  • by YankeeInExile (577704) * on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:29PM (#10440770) Homepage Journal

    Uhmmmmmmmm ... no.

    Unless you have one of the (few) cars with electrical power steering, you certainly will not lose power steering by shutting of the ignition.

    So long as the engine is turning, the entirely mechanical power steering pump will continue to rotate and provide pressure to the system.

    So long as the engine is generating manifold vacuum, you will have power brake boost. Beyond that, some cars (I know my old Volvo had one) have a diaphragm vacuum pump in addition to manifold vacuum to power the brake booster.

    The only danger in killing ignition is in carburated autos, where you will continue to run fuel through the engine without spark. This will destroy any catalytic converter, and has a good chance of causing numerous backfires, and damaging the remainder of the exhaust system.

    In the same Volvo wagon with the vacuum pump, it had a major overheating problem, but with its fuel-injected engine, killing ignition was a non-issue. No electricity, no fuel pump, no backfire. After climbing a long grade and getting up to 130, cresting the hill, and killing the ignition would cool it back down in just a few tens of seconds just from pumping all that relatively cold air through the engine. (Of course, shock cooling the engine was probably worse for it than the overheating, but it was a dispos-a-car anyway.)

    • Many cars have an anti-theft lock that lashes the steering wheel in position when the ignition key is in the off position. Of course as soon as the engine cuts out, you can put it back into ON, and use inertia to coast.
  • by netringer (319831) <.maaddr-slashdot. .at. .yahoo.com.> on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:34PM (#10440845) Journal
    I suspect this problem is mechanical, not electronic. The cruise control connection to the throttle or the throttle linkage itself can bind and stick the throttle wide open.

    I just had the accelerator get jammed to the floor on my Mustang when it got held down by the floor mat. Luckily I have a manual transmission and could just put int he clutch and let it the engine get cut off at red line. After trying pushing on the accelerator to get it to bounce back, I unstuck the throttle by pulling the floor mat back. I could have killed the engine with the key and coasted to the shoulder.

    This guy might have freed it up by pushing on the gas.

    Just like with the "unintended accelleration" stories, I think we're not hearing the whole story. One Audi dealer offered $10,000 to anyone who could make the car take off while he had his foot on the brake. There were no takers. Every car made has better brakes that overpower the engine. The engine will die. The car will stop.
    • by Lumpy (12016) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @01:18PM (#10441514) Homepage
      Yes and no.

      applying hard breaking at high speed will cause gassing at the break pads and cause an excessive amount of fade as they heat up drastically. you can have very little breaking power when you try to engage the brakes at high speed now couple this with the engine fighting you.

      with 3 piston large caliper disc brakes with vented and cross drilled rotors? no, there's enough there to counteract the problem (I.E. designed for high speed braking found in racing)

      but the really low end brake systems found on cars on the road from BMW and Mercedes let alone the even cheaper junk on Renault have no chance of helping much being applied at 120mph.

      The mechanics of this decline and failure in the coefficient of friction are varied. At a certain temperature, certain elements of the pad can melt or smear causing a lubrication effect, this is the classic glazed brake pad. Usually the organic binder resin starts to go first, then even the metallic elements of the friction material can start to melt. At really high temperatures the friction material starts to vaporize and the pad can sort of hydroplane on a boundary layer of vaporized metal and friction material which acts like a lubricant.

      so brakes not working in this instance is certianly a possibility.
  • by Enigma_Man (756516) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:34PM (#10440858) Homepage
    Here's why:

    About turning off the ignition: The only time it is hard to steer a car without power assist is when the car is sitting still, or moving only very slowly (less than ~3 mph). When the wheels are rolling, it is just as easy to turn (I have removed my power steering to save weight in a car that isn't light by any means, I'm a skinny geek and it isn't a problem). The brakes might possibly lose their power assist (unless they are vacuum assist), but even then, as long as you know that the brakes will be harder to push, it isn't _that_ hard.

    Next time you are driving in a large isolated stretch of road, try flooring it and putting on the brakes to try to overcome the engine. The car will come to a complete stop (unless you drive a POS with worn out brakes) even with the engine floored. Also, the emergency brake should have a mostly similar reaction, though you will probably end up dragging the rear tires along the ground, given the propensity for front wheel drive these days.

    Third, many cruise control systems (not sure about brand-spankin' new cars) use some sort of vacuum or hydraulic control over the throttle pedal. You can physically override the cruise control by pulling up on the throttle pedal.

    Fourth, he should have been able to put the car into neutral, even in an automatic. If the car is modern enough to have cruise control, it will slip into neutral, and the engine RPMs will bounce off the rev limiter, and not grenade the engine either (modern engines can run for weeks at maximum rpm without problems). Pull the car over, pop the hood, disconnect the battery or spark plugs until it stops running.

    This guy is either a complete moron, or someone looking to speed down the highway semi-legally.

    -Jesse
  • by alanxyzzy (666696) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:36PM (#10440890)
    But was charged with dangerous driving. I can't find a story that tells whether he was found guilty or not.

    1999-06-10 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/365915.stm [bbc.co.uk]

    1999-06-08 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/364260.stm [bbc.co.uk]

    1999-06-07 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/363407.stm [bbc.co.uk]

    1998-10-21 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/197964.stm [bbc.co.uk]

    A driver praised as a hero when he rang police on his mobile phone to say his 38-ton lorry was out of control has been charged with dangerous driving. Michael Rayner, 26, now unemployed, from Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, will appear before Hendon Magistrate's Court on 17 November. Mr Rayner was praised for preventing an accident on the M1 in May when he said his accelerator had jammed on the motorway. The articulated lorry careered towards London for more than 20 miles at speeds of up to 80mph. Mr Rayner gave police a running commentary and the busy motorway had to be cleared by patrol cars and a helicopter. The Scania P124 lorry finally came to a halt by hitting a crash barrier and fence near Hendon in north-west London.
  • by lanroth (186573) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:38PM (#10440925) Homepage
    It's a PICNIC. Problem In Chair, Not In Car. ;-)
  • by Richthofen80 (412488) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:41PM (#10440959) Homepage
    Subaru sent me a recall notice 6 months ago about a potential problem. It was mechanical, though, not electrical. Apparently a retaining clip for the cable for the cruise control has broken in some models, causing acceleration to 'stick'. Dealers are replacing defective clips at no cost to drivers.

    As it has already been said many times, the best way is to shift into neutral, sound the horn and use hazards. That's what the recall letter said, as well.

    its taught at least in the massachusetts drivers license handbook.
  • by mihalis (28146) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:42PM (#10440979) Homepage

    I am sceptical about this story, however it reminds me of an attitude to software, expressed before by a French engineer, that I disliked :-

    An Airbus avionics programmer appeared on a documentary about the Airbus crashes (this was in the UK so was at least seven years ago). He was quoted as saying something like "we take the attitude that, with software, if we test it well enough, then it will work".

    This scared me. If you don't know why, I don't want to ride in your plane or live near YOUR nuclear reactor, either.

  • by Naikrovek (667) <jjohnson@nospam.psg.com> on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:45PM (#10441022)
    I was in my dad's 1968 chrysler newport (HUGE car) and was driving 65 or so on cruise control. when i got into town the cruise wouldn't disengage and the 290hp motor was too much for the 4 wheel drum brakes to stop. for some reason the car would not go into neutral. i put the car through all the gears and my speed did not change. i cruised through town braking at about 50 and had a huge line of cops behind me by the time i got out of town, and when i finally got to a point of open road where i could think to switch off the ignition (i was 16, gimme a break) i was promptly thrown on the ground and handcuffed.

    one of the officers didn't believe me when i said the cruise control stuck, and asked test the car himself, since it was the only way to prove to him that i wasn't purposely speeding. when he started the car again, cruise was still stuck, and the car was still stuck in gear, and VROOM 65mph. he spun around and hit a tree, steering column peirced his chest and killed him.

    they kinda forgot about arresting me after that. cruise control sucks.
  • by AK Marc (707885) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:46PM (#10441031)
    The top of the line Vel Satis has 245 hp. Brakes can easily out power the engine. It took him an hour to decide to push hard enough on the brakes to stop the car. Of course, with the proper pressure on the brake pedal, he came to a halt.
  • by remou (146100) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @12:52PM (#10441115) Homepage
    Reuters Article [reuters.com]

    The driver called police to say the cruise control of his Renault Vel Satis had jammed while overtaking a lorry, and that all attempts to brake or put the automatic into neutral had failed, police said Tuesday.

  • There are many great ideas that people came up with on how the driver could have slowed the car. But nobody has listed the obvious one yet.

    He should have kicked his way through the floor boards to the engine compartment. At which point he would have seen 6 wires, 2 of them being blue, 1 brown, 1 orange and 2 red. He would then have taken the brown, orange and 1 of the reds and spliced them together with a bit of electrical tape. But making sure that he was at all times grounded and that the blue wires did not come in contact with the red ones (Then you would have a whole new set of problems).

    Once these wires are connected together, it is all downhill from there. You just have to use a screwdriver to crack open the steering column where you will find 4 more wires (blue, green, yellow/blue, red). Take the connected wires that you finished with earlier, use a 3 foot spare wire to run a bridge to the steering column connecting to the green and blue wire. Once this is all done, just push your horn 3 times in rapid succession and the car will slow right down.

    Still makes me laugh that this guy never thought of this. Silly French people.
  • by 56ksucks (516942) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @01:29PM (#10441672) Homepage
    .. It was just running from the volkswagen behind it.
  • by Knx (743893) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @02:33PM (#10442611) Homepage
    "A car must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law."
  • 1971 Datsun Pickup (Score:4, Interesting)

    by peacefinder (469349) * <alan.dewitt@ g m a i l . com> on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @02:42PM (#10442716) Journal
    Same thing happened to me once. But I wasn't in France at the time.

    I was driving my dad's red 1971 Datsun pickup on my way to work. (My brother had rolled it a couple times, but it was a Datsun so of course it still ran as good as ever.) A light ahead changed to yellow, and, being about 20 years old at the time, I did what came naturally: I floored it.

    Not that flooring a '71 Datsun 1600cc engine had much of an immediate effect. But I did start accellerating, and I made it through the light whilst it was still yellow. Sweeeet. I let off the gas.

    The engine continued to rev up.

    "Oh, shit," said I. I was up to about 50MPH (in a 45 zone) and accelerating. The next light was about 400 yards away and red, with cars backed up waiting in every lane going my way. It was familiar territory, so I knew the light wouldn't be green before I got there.

    I started to panic. I dropped the clutch, and the engine started to wind up. I had no tachometer, but I knew that sucker was gonna tear itself apart if I let it go on like that. I shoved into high gear (4, no overdrive) and engaged the clutch again. Naturally this was a slightly wrenching experience; the RPMs dropped and the vehicle lurched towards the firey doom ahead. In full panic now, I dropped the clutch again with the same result as before. I re-engaged the clutch.

    I thought "I am going to die in about ten seconds. Nine. Eight. Oh yeah, the switch."

    I turned the engine off and pulled over. Heh. Silly me.

    Turns out that the throttle pedal itself was jammed. There was a little mushroom-shaped backstop attached to the firewall, and when I had floored it I had shoved the perdal sideways a bit, and gotten it stuck behind the backstop.

    The moral of the story? Panic is not helpful, even the simplest devices can fail, and every powered device needs a kill switch.
  • by DaveJay (133437) on Tuesday October 05, 2004 @03:11PM (#10443084)
    The Audi 5000, and many other cars over the years, have had reported cases of "unintended acceleration", often resulting in deaths. In most (if not all) cases, it turns out to be driver error, wherein the driver BELIEVES they're stomping on the brakes, but instead they're pressing the gas. The truth is, in all modern automobiles, the brakes can bring the car to a halt even with the accelerator floored.

    Historically, this usually occurs when something else malfunctions and causes the driver to get distracted. In the case of the Audi 5000, it was an idle control that went awry, and when people shifted into drive with their foot off the brake, the higher idle would make the car lurch forward. They'd slam on the brakes, but accidentally hit the gas, and keep their foot to the floor until they hit something. They found this out by inviting a number of people who experienced this "unintended acceleration" to a parking lot, and had them drive engineers around for two days in front of cameras while the engineers played with the computer to force errors.

    On the second day of this testing, a woman putting the car into reverse went tearing across the parking lot at high speed until the engineer reached over and shut the car off. She jumped out of the car, and on camera, shouted something like "It happened! There's your proof! The car is at fault!" -- but the cameras inside the car showed she had been hitting the gas, the cameras outside showed no brake lights, and the engineer riding with her bore witness as well.

    As a result of this study, and all of the fallout surrounding the related lawsuits, the US requires an automatic transmission interlock on all cars sold here. You MUST have your foot on the brake to shift into gear.

    - - -

    Now, to the case at hand. I am fairly certain that this was the course of events:

    1. The driver recently purchased the car, or it was a rental, so he was relatively unfamiliar with it (the Audi 5000 incident found that the vast majority of people having these incidents were drivers for whom the Audi was not the primary vehicle, or whom had just purchased it);

    2. The driver was cruising along on cruise control, and pressed the gas without manually disengaging the control.

    3. When the driver lifted off the gas and pulled back in, the car either didn't slow down as quickly as he thought it should (remember, we're assuming he was unfamiliar with the car), he accidentally hit the button to reset the cruise control to the newer, higher speed, or there was a genuine malfunction that reset the cruise to the newer, higher speed.

    4. In the next few seconds that followed, he panicked and went for the brake -- but instead he hit the gas. Having done this, and firmly believing that he was hitting the brake to no effect, he continued to floor the gas. The car continued to accelerate.

    5. Between trying to shut the car off, calling the police and swerving around traffic, it never occurred to him to look down and see if he was actually hitting the brake. No shame there; none of us would have, either.

    6. As he approached the tollbooth, he made another attempt at the brakes (probably using both feet this time) and brought the car to a stop.

    So, is the cruise control at fault? Possibly, but not definitely. Either way, similar past incidents suggest that it was a relatively minor issue until he hit the gas by mistake.

    For what it's worth, with no witnesses in the car and no instruments monitoring, we'll never know for sure. Also, unless he realized his mistake just before stopping the car, he may well spend the rest of his life believing it's the car's fault -- and if he DID realize his mistake, there's no way he's ever going to admit it.

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