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Driver Trapped In Speeding Car At 125 Mph 1176

Posted by timothy
from the can't-wait-for-robot-cars dept.
Hugh Pickens writes writes "The Guardian reports that Frank Lecerf was driving his Renault Laguna in Northern France when the car's speed jammed at 60mph. Then each time he tried to brake, the car accelerated, eventually reaching 125mph and sticking there. While uncontrollably speeding through the fast lane as other cars swerved out of his way, he managed to call emergency services who immediately dispatched a platoon of police cars. Realizing Lecerf had no choice but to keep racing along until his fuel ran out, they escorted him at high speed across almost 125 miles of French motorway, past Calais and Dunkirk, and over the Belgian border. After about an hour, Lecerf's tank spluttered empty and he managed to swerve into a ditch in Alveringem in Belgium, about 125 miles from his home. 'My life flashed before me,' says Lecerf. 'I just wanted it to stop.' His lawyer says Lecerf will file a legal complaint over 'endangerment of a person's life.'"
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Driver Trapped In Speeding Car At 125 Mph

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:33PM (#42902407)

    It probably would have broken. The parking brake doesn't typically use the hydraulic system the rest of the car uses. In my vehicle, it's a wire than runs back to a separate, much weaker, mechanism.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:35PM (#42902425)

    The article mentioned that the car was adapted with controls for people with disabilities (probably hand controls for the accelerator and brakes).

    Not only would this kind of modification introduce another point of failure in the system, the hand controls were probably not debugged and tested to the same degree as the traditional ones.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:35PM (#42902429)

    Seriously, I have trouble believing these "My car is stuck going fast and can't stop!" stories are anything other than failure to understand how to operate your vehicle.

    As usual, RTFA. "A Renault technician had been on the phone with police throughout the chase trying to help but couldn't come up with a solution."

  • by PPH (736903) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:36PM (#42902457)

    The car in question was an automatic, so no neutral.

    Since when? The N in PRNDL stands for neutral.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:37PM (#42902473)

    Ever tried it?

    Go into an empty parking lot with an automatic transmission.

    Depress break, put the care into drive. Take your foot off the break, and then pull the handbreak after it's rolling.

    The car will keep rolling on every vehicle I've ever driven -- and I've tried in at least four or five and every rental I've ever had a few extra minutes in.

    Handbreaks aren't powerful enough to stop any vehicle in motion whatsoever. Some of them won't even prevent a stopped automatic from rolling.

    No... I'm pretty sure your only hope whatsoever is to shift the transmission into neutral

  • by TriezGamer (861238) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:37PM (#42902475)

    Handbrake at those speeds would either be useless, or suicidal. Even pulling the handbrake at lower speeds can be extremely dangerous.

  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:38PM (#42902501)

    All of them have an "N" setting that I've seen. It disengages the engine from the wheels. You'd need it for towing and so on.

  • Missing Details... (Score:5, Informative)

    by icebike (68054) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:39PM (#42902535)

    Details Missing from the quoted article is this bit:

    The Frenchman, who suffers from epilepsy and drives a specially-modified car that has controls on the steering wheel to operate the throttle and brake, has filed a legal complaint against the vehicle's manufacturer.

    Source here. [theweek.co.uk]

    Unless Renault did these modifications for him, I doubt he has a chance in hell of winning his suit.

    I've never seen a car you couldn't force into Neutral even under heavy acceleration.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:40PM (#42902563)

    The car was modified with disabled-driver controls. It's unclear what options he had available to regain control.

  • by compro01 (777531) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:41PM (#42902569)

    Nope, there's no conventional key. The ignition is entirely computerized. The "key" is a card you stick in a slot and you start (and stop) the engine by pressing a button. Here's the car's dashboard. The thing with the red fob is the "key".

    http://www.autotesty.com.pl/fotki/renault/laguna3_gt_20dci_177km/renault_laguna3_20dci_177km_gt_15.jpg [autotesty.com.pl]

  • by X0563511 (793323) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:41PM (#42902581) Homepage Journal

    My car has:
    OFF, ACC, ON, START

    The engine starts on START, obviously. The key sits at ON while driving. If I drop it down to ACC, the engine dies but most things stay powered. The wheel does not lock.

    The wheel only locks when I move the key to the OFF position, and to do that I have to be in park or neutral (or use some kind of poking implement to depress the shift-lock override, which also lets me do Bad Things like drop it straight into park from drive.

    Every car with a key that I've ever seen has the same configuration.

  • NOT STOCK (Score:5, Informative)

    by markdavis (642305) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:42PM (#42902587)

    This was not a stock car. It had been modified for a "disabled" person who also had epileptic seizures. We don't know exactly HOW it was modified from the articles, but it could have hand controls and other things that really have nothing to do with a "normal" car and could have contributed to the problems.

    It might also explain why he might have been unable or incapable of turning off the car or putting it into neutral.

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:42PM (#42902595)

    "The brake pedal causing the car to accelerate seems highly unlikely without some major hacking,"

    TFA states that the driver was "disabled", so presumably his car was equipped with hand controls. Yes, that's a major hack.

  • by grnbrg (140964) <slashdot@@@grnbrg...org> on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:45PM (#42902647)

    Not the case. I've got one of the fancy new keyless ignition vehicles, and I've tested this.

    With the engine running, and with forward motion, three (maybe four) presses in quick succession or pressing and holding the the ignition switch for 2-3 seconds will kill the engine. You need to shift into park and press the brake to start again.

    I thought it was interesting that there were two paths that would do this, both of which are a reasonably likely response in a panic situation -- tap the button a zillion times, or try to mash it into the engine compartment.

    2009 Nissan Cube, if you care. Or if you don't.

    grnbrg.

  • Re:Awesome (Score:5, Informative)

    by amicusNYCL (1538833) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:46PM (#42902667)

    The article says that while he was unhurt, he did suffer two epileptic seizures. Imagine going through that, twice, at 125mph.

  • by X0563511 (793323) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:46PM (#42902671) Homepage Journal

    That's a phenomena specific to diesel engines. Diesel's don't use a spark to ignite the fuel mixture like gasoline engines do, they use the heat from piston compression. Thus, so long as vacuum pressure and fuel supply is maintained, a diesel can continue running without electrical power.

  • by Svartormr (692822) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:49PM (#42902711)

    ...the article addressed them (if you read between the lines).

    The car was modified for disabled use and was apparently all-electronic control, including start/stop, gear, power, and brake. "Braking" accelerated the car from 100 km/hr to 200 km/hr. As I imagine the driver was familiar with the car, he may have tried using the other electronic controls--although after "braking" doubled his speed I imagine he was reluctant to do so for fear of what would actually happen. This is further supported by a Renault tech being in contact with the police who couldn't suggest anything more for the driver to do besides wait for fuel exhaustion.

  • by amicusNYCL (1538833) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:49PM (#42902723)

    This car doesn't have a "key", it has a button that says "Start/Stop".

  • Some observations (Score:5, Informative)

    by Okian Warrior (537106) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:50PM (#42902739) Homepage Journal

    The same thing happened to a driver in Oz awhile back.

    Modern cars contain numerous independent systems which communicate using an internal bus. If one of those systems fails in a way such that it floods the bus with packets, no other system can get a message through.

    If you happen to be on cruise-control at that time, there may be no way out of it. The signals from the steering-wheel computer [buttons] or brake won't get to the computer.

    Here's some info that came from the Oz incident:

    1) Modern cars don't have a direct key-switch - the computer starts and stops the engine. Turning the engine off is not guaranteed to stop the car. (This was tried in the Oz case.)

    2) Some cars do not have direct shift capability; ie - it's "shift by wire": the shifter tells the computer what gear to be in. (Admittedly, I've never seen one, don't know if it's true.)

    3) A driver is not strong enough to stop the car against the engine, especially since the engine can down-shift to get more power. Some "mythbusters"-style experimenters disagree with this statement, but their conclusions don't track with these incidents. Also, consider that the driver may be female, young, elderly, out-of-shape and otherwise incapable of braking with the full force of an "average" human driver.

    I used to write the software for aircraft instruments, and one thing the hardware should always do is "fail safe". If you have a remote sensor such as a switch, in this case the brake light switch, you always have some mechanism to determine whether the wire is broken. If the remote sensor is on a communication bus, you always look for a "heartbeat" packet saying that the remote sensor is working properly. If something fails, the default action is to go out of cruise-control.

    Car software is not safety certified (as aircraft systems are), and perhaps they should be. This will become more important as cars get smarter, and will be critical for self-driving cars.

  • by roc97007 (608802) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:51PM (#42902755) Journal

    According to TFA, the car was "adapted for disabled drivers" and later on it talks about a "speed dial" which had given him problems before. So, it looks like it didn't have the controls we normally think a car should have.

    Interesting about the ignition nevertheless. I'm not sure how they work

  • by PhotoJim (813785) <.ac.mijotohp. .ta. .mij.> on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:55PM (#42902843) Homepage

    This sort of event is convincing me even more that I want three pedals in my car. Press the clutch and your problem is solved. No electronics can fail because the clutch in a manual transmission car is controlled by you, with your foot, mechanically.

  • by nabsltd (1313397) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @07:12PM (#42903097)

    Press the clutch and your problem is solved. No electronics can fail because the clutch in a manual transmission car is controlled by you, with your foot, mechanically.

    Modern cars with manual transmissions often have a drive-by-wire clutch, in the sense that the pedal is nothing more than a force-feedback joystick.

  • by HuntingHades (2010088) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @07:18PM (#42903175)
    The article mentions he's epileptic and the car is modified for disabled drivers. I'm guessing its got an automatic transmission. When it mentioned he had two seizures during the situation, I'm actually wondering if he was having a seizure and the whole time and depressing the accelerator without even realizing it.
  • by omegadraconis (1348397) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @07:22PM (#42903249)
    Found another story about this indecent. It indicates that "...which the Weeknotes was customized in light of Lecerf's epilepsy, with the gas and brake controls moved to the steering wheel)." from USA today http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2013/02/14/newser-wild-ride-france-drive/1919139/ [usatoday.com]. The Manual (Found at http://www.globalcars.com.au/site/uploads/Renault_Laguna_ENG.pdf [globalcars.com.au]) does indicate that the automated version has an Neutral gear. It also indicates that shifting to neutral and then pressing the ignition should stop the engine. There is also a park for the automatics... I suppose if they moved the gas and brake they may have moved the gear-shift (thought it's not stated). If that was the case and the disability controls were malfunctioning (likely) then your screwed. Of course you could throw the keys out the window From the manual, page 2.5 titled "Starting/STOPPING THE ENGINE (continued)". "If the card is no longer in the passenger compartment when you try to switch the engine off, the message “card absentlong press” appears on the instrument panel: press button 1 for longer than two seconds"
  • by silanea (1241518) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @07:24PM (#42903263)
    TFS says the issues started at 60 mph. Even at that speed the slightest bump on the rail, a bar sticking out a bit, anything really would either rip half the car to shreds or send it hurling across the motorway. Doing it at 125? Only if you have a death wish.
  • by AwaxSlashdot (600672) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @07:34PM (#42903385) Homepage Journal

    Yeah yeah, it "happened" to him 3 times and his driving license was cancelled since 2004 over speeding tickets. But sure, this is the car manufacturer fault if your modified car (gas and brake operated from the steering wheel) has a strange behavior.

  • by SomePgmr (2021234) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @07:41PM (#42903483) Homepage

    Uh, guys... we can probably stop trying to troubleshoot with all the obvious stuff like turning the car off, shifting to neutral, parking brake, etc.

    From the article:

    A Renault technician had been on the phone with police throughout the chase trying to help but couldn't come up with a solution.

  • Re:Awesome (Score:5, Informative)

    by bipbop (1144919) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @07:41PM (#42903495)

    Note that seizures range from symptoms as minor as deja vu or a brief lapse in awareness (that you might not even know you had) to full-body thrashing and flailing with the potential for both physical and mental injury.

    The article doesn't specify what he went through. My guess is that it was toward the middle of the spectrum: too small, and he might not have even been aware he had a seizure; too large, and he probably wouldn't have survived the ordeal.

    (Other people have already brought up the possibility that the seizures were responsible for the problem, so I'll leave it at that.)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 14, 2013 @09:08PM (#42904557)

    Actually that's not entirely true. I do a lot of high speed driving (on closed road courses in racecars) and have been in many similar situations. A driver can definitely come to a controlled stop from ~60 (or even a bit higher, although 125 is stretching it) by scraping into most common metal or concrete barriers. It's certainly feasible if you're calm, do it intentionally, understand what's going on, and steer appropriately. However, in this particular scenario there were probably other mitigating factors, even if 125mph was an acceptable speed against the barriers in question:

    A) If the accelerator signal was actually stuck on, and the brake signal dysfunctional (as appears to be the case according to TFA), you could shed some speed that way, but eventually you'd get slow enough that the car's torque would overcome the remaining friction and you'd just be grinding along at a constant speed. If that speed were ~25mph or less, it might've been worth trying to jump out of the car at that point (if the barrier was on the passenger side), but if it were higher you'd just be making your situation worse. You could try to turn into it a bit harder at that point to increase friction, and I'd guess the first fallout would be blown front tires, which definitely puts further vehicle control in doubt and the engine's still trying to go all out at that point...

    B) If the driver wasn't in his right frame of mind and a driver of decent skill (for normal road drivers), he could've freaked out in such a situation and made matters worse by bouncing off or turning in to sharp, either of which would lead to the car spinning and possibly flipping.

    But really, I still think there's something wrong with the facts in the article, they just don't jive. I can understand this isn't a Toyota (totally the fault of deranged consumers) situation, due to the fact that the car was modified with some assistive gas/brake inputs for the disabled that may have gone crazy and actually caused the gas/brake behavior described, but...

    What I can't understand is how the owner, the police, and the supposed Renault Engineer (likely it was some local mechanic the cops called, and likely there was miscommunication involved? I don't know...) couldn't figure out how to turn off the engine. A car can definitely be safely stopped on a regular road with the engine off, although it will take a while to slow down without brakes. I suspect one fact that must be missing from TFA is that the driver was the disabled person the system was installed for and couldn't operate the normal controls of the car, but there still should've been a way to shut that car down. Either way, the mfg/installer of the assistive device is probably the primary culprit here, not Renault or all drive-by-wire cars in general.

  • by dryeo (100693) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @10:33PM (#42905297)

    The car was modified for a disability. I don't know how but I had a friend who was paraplegic so had hand control, push for throttle, pull for brake. The hand controls may be setup in such a way that it is possible a malfunction has the brake operating the throttle.

  • Re:Awesome (Score:5, Informative)

    by garyebickford (222422) <gar37bic.gmail@com> on Thursday February 14, 2013 @11:52PM (#42905915)

    Airplane manufactures do it for their fly by wire systems so that the pilot always stays in control, even when the system would rather beg to differ on the matter.

    If I recall correctly, this corresponds to somewhat of a philosophic difference between Airbus and Boeing. From what I read a few years ago, Airbus absolutely limits what the pilot can do - he/she can not make the plane do something the computer doesn't approve of. Boeing, assumes the pilot knows best, and allows the pilot to 'override' the system (do things with the controls that seem unwise to the computer). Boeing's POV is that the computer may be wrong, and/or the situation may not be one the computer is ready for.

    I did a bit of Googling 'airbus and boeing philosophy' and found many interesting links. Boeing still insists on classic controls [the-americ...terest.com], which require the pilot to act like a pilot instead of automating everything (even though it's automated). And the autopilot automatically disengages as soon as the pilot takes the controls. [askcaptainlim.com] Airbus philosophy is to automate everything to avoid human error - but slashdotters generally know that computers are only as smart as their programs, and are _never_ as adaptable as their programmers.

  • Re:Awesome (Score:5, Informative)

    by MrNiCeGUi (302919) on Friday February 15, 2013 @02:17AM (#42906923)
    I'm from Europe and in all the cars I've owned or driven, which were mostly manual, turning off the key never engages the steering lock. The steering lock is engaged only when you remove the key.

    That said, the car being a Renault Laguna and presumably a rather recent one it most likely comes with Renault's keycard ignition. Basically the key looks like a fatter credit card, and it goes into a slot. The car starts by pressing a Start button. In that case, the card is blocked inside the slot while the car is in motion, so it can't be removed at all.
  • RTFA (Score:5, Informative)

    by dutchwhizzman (817898) on Friday February 15, 2013 @02:39AM (#42907055)

    He did call the police and it wasn't a "normal" car, but one adapted for disabled drivers. God knows what ugly hacks they made to his car to make it adapted and what important safety measures were ripped out of the car to do so. Renault has a rather good safety record compared to other cars in the same class and price range and this is not how a "normal" Renault Laguna would handle.

    Presumably some form of throttle control/brake single lever control was put on the car to replace the pedals. If you use a single sensor system for that, you can't pick up if the sensor fails. What if the sensor for "decelerate" was broken? He'd be trying to wiggle the lever to get it to work, telling the control unit to accelerate the car every time he did so. This is why cars with electronic throttle control (most modern cars have that) are equipped with dual sensors and an elaborate sensor malfunction detection built into the software. Brakes are often electronically assisted, but still work on hydraulic power and in case of sensor failure, you can still stop the car with the basic hydraulic system connected directly to the pedal. I doubt very much that Renault modified this car for him, so if anything, he should be going after the company that did the modification.

  • Re:Awesome (Score:5, Informative)

    by Arrepiadd (688829) on Friday February 15, 2013 @05:43AM (#42907913)

    He should have shifted into neutral as soon as he realized he couldn't keep the engine from accelerating the car beyond where he wanted it to be.

    One acronym for you: RTFA.

    I'll give you some of the content. Warning, there's some spoilers:
    "Lecerf has filed a legal complaint after his Renault Laguna, which is adapted for disabled drivers, (...) and the brakes failed"
    "A Renault technician had been on the phone with police throughout the chase trying to help but couldn't come up with a solution."

    So yeah, he should have done all that... and obviously in a one hour run over the highway, with police involved, no one came up with that idea. Why aren't you a French policeman... everything would have been so different!

  • Re:Awesome (Score:4, Informative)

    by Eunuchswear (210685) on Friday February 15, 2013 @08:03AM (#42908557) Journal

    If I recall correctly, this corresponds to somewhat of a philosophic difference between Airbus and Boeing. From what I read a few years ago, Airbus absolutely limits what the pilot can do - he/she can not make the plane do something the computer doesn't approve of. Boeing, assumes the pilot knows best, and allows the pilot to 'override' the system (do things with the controls that seem unwise to the computer). Boeing's POV is that the computer may be wrong, and/or the situation may not be one the computer is ready for.

    Urban legend (or Boeing propaganda if you are a cynic).

    In "normal law" Airbus will prevent the pilot from doing some stupid things, but when the shit hits the fan he can do what the hell he wants.

  • Re:Awesome (Score:5, Informative)

    by painandgreed (692585) on Friday February 15, 2013 @01:09PM (#42911999)

    I suppose it never occured to him to take the car out of gear??

    I mean, is there such a thing as a car without Neutral?

    In TFA, it points out that the car was modified for a disabled driver. Could be that the entire thing including changing gears was controlled by a computer or other electronic device with a simple input for use by a disabled person, but it was on the fritz and the usual controls were either unreachable due to disability or no longer functioned due to modification.

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