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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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  • Awesome (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Laxori666 (748529) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:27PM (#42902291) Homepage
    Glad nobody got hurt.
    • Re:Awesome (Score:5, Funny)

      by Jeremiah Cornelius (137) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:41PM (#42902579) Homepage Journal

      The man had to visit BELGIUM.

      And yet, you claim that no one was hurt!

      • Re:Awesome (Score:5, Funny)

        by sconeu (64226) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @07:24PM (#42903269) Homepage Journal

        You can't say that here!!! This isn't a Serious Screenplay!

    • 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.

      • Re:Awesome (Score:5, Funny)

        by Darfeld (1147131) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:52PM (#42902781)

        The man should sell his story to Hoolywood. They might had some explosion there and then, but whatever...

        • Re:Awesome (Score:4, Funny)

          by WCLPeter (202497) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @09:58PM (#42904975) Homepage

          The man should sell his story to Hoolywood.

          Forget Hollywood, Bollywood is where its at!

          Gun fire, explosions, and the totally implausible "I can't believe no one died and the car is still going" car flips all while the dialogue from the last hour is retold through a deeply moving song and dance number. Its a plucky love story about the rookie cop, who thinks she's plain and boring despite being portrayed by one of the hottest actresses in India, falling in love with the nerdy nice guy who's down on his looks, despite being played by one of the hottest actors in India, who just can't get his car to stop.

          The only thing standing between them and their love, outside of the racing car, are the bumbling bank robbers who think the procession of speeding vehicles quickly gaining on them are actually trying to arrest them. For laughs they'll have the cars speed through a bus terminal and across the decks of cruise ships while continuously cutting to reaction shots of a guy who looks a lot like Dennis Hopper.

        • Re:Awesome (Score:5, Funny)

          by Prof.Phreak (584152) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @11:19PM (#42905627) Homepage

          To get more actors into movie, they could set story on a bus... that just cannot go below 55mph... or something.

      • 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.)

      • Re:Awesome (Score:5, Interesting)

        by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @08:17PM (#42903941)

        The article says that while he was unhurt, he did suffer two epileptic seizures.

        So, why does France issue Driver's Licenses to people subject to epileptic seizures?

  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:28PM (#42902305)

    Turn it to "off" and the engine will lose power. The car will stop. Also, you can shift it in to neutral. Might not be the best for the engine at high RPMs, but it'll do the trick.

    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.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:33PM (#42902387)

      Thus engaging the steering wheel lock.

      • 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.

    • by iamhassi (659463)

      Turn it to "off" and the engine will lose power. The car will stop. Also, you can shift it in to neutral. Might not be the best for the engine at high RPMs, but it'll do the trick.

      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.

      ^----- This. The brake pedal causing the car to accelerate seems highly unlikely without some major hacking, and even if the brakes are bad the emergency brake should still be working. I hope the car is still in good shape so the manufacture can inspect it, I imagine we will be hearing more on this story.

      • 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 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 lgw (121541)

          Yep, I'd bet that is where the problem will be found, not the car as shipped. 90% of these "my car won't stop" stories are some driver who has his foot on the gas, thinking it's the brake, and keeps flooring gas and wondering why his evil car won't stop. I suspect this case is instead a malfunction of the aftermarket driver assistance controls with the same effect.

    • by kruach aum (1934852) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:34PM (#42902417)
      "Have you tried turning it off and on again?"
    • by GiganticLyingMouth (1691940) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:48PM (#42902705)
      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." Of course I can't say with 100% certainty, but I'm guessing the Renault technician would have thought of all of your proposed solutions and more. It's important to note that his car had been "adapted for disabled drivers", which likely played some role in its malfunction, so conventional wisdom about cars may not be as applicable, depending on the modifications made. Also, he likely has various disabilities, given that his car is for disabled drivers, and that he "had two epileptic seizures" during the drive, so it's likely not necessarily a matter of him failing "to understand his vehicle's operation" as you say, so much as him being physically and/or mentally unable to take action. One last interesting note from the article: "it wasn't the first time his speed dial had jammed but that Renault had looked at the car and assured him that it was fine." That's probably where the legal complaint comes into play
    • A Renault technician had been on the phone with police throughout the chase trying to help but couldn't come up with a solution.

      You know, I'm willing to bet this guy suggested all these things, and since you know how the story ends, they didn't work.

    • 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 msauve (701917)
      A simple Google search shows that the Renault Laguna doesn't have a key [remotekey.co.uk]. It uses an electronic keycard. It's likely the case that pulling out the keycard doesn't operate a mechanical switch which would shut off the engine. Given the widespread reports of instrument problems [google.com], there may be a software issue involved. The article also states that the car "is adapted for disabled drivers," and that "it wasn't the first time his speed dial had jammed but that Renault had looked at the car and assured him that it
  • 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.

  • 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 DrData99 (916924) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:40PM (#42902553)

    Because you missed the "adapted for disabled drivers" and "wasn't the first time the speed dial jammed".

    Clearly not a stock Renault.

  • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:42PM (#42902585)

    125 miles of French motorway, past Calais and Dunkirk, and over the Belgian border.
    'My life flashed before me,' says Lecerf. 'I just wanted it to stop.'

    My, if a car were taking me at high speed to Belgium, I'd be scared to death, too.

  • 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 PPH (736903)

      "disabled" person who also had epileptic seizures.

      At some point, can't we just say "Don't drive". Some handicaps can be accommodated. But an epileptic seizure while driving down the highway? Please, not while I'm on the road.

      I don't know to what extent the control modifications were made to accommodate the seizure condition. But unless its a self-driving car, I can't see how this would be safe.

  • by Voyager529 (1363959) <(moc.oohay) (ta) (925regayov)> on Thursday February 14, 2013 @06:44PM (#42902635)

    This song [youtube.com] seems appropriate.

  • 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.

  • 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 rabtech (223758) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @07:03PM (#42902967) Homepage

    A Renault engineer got on the phone with the guy and walked him through various attempts to stop the car, stop the engine, go into neutral, etc. I would hazard a guess that the engineer had him try anything considered safe (don't want to accidentally lock the steering wheel at that speed).

    If the computer were sending commands to disengage the throttle but there was a mechanical problem or a bug in an electronic component the engine simply may not have responded to the command. Depending on the transmission design, at max throttle it may have refused or been unable to disengage and slide into neutral either.

    I think this sort of thing highlights how important it is to have an alternate emergency cutoff, one not dependent on the electronic control systems. Something like a secondary switch contact in the on/off button that if held down for 15 seconds automatically cuts power to the fuel pump with a simple, dumb electronic relay circuit.

    Of course if you've ever looked at the "security" or "design" of these in-car networks (CANBUS, etc) then you realize how awful they are. Think along the lines of your average cable company DVR. They are full of holes - eg a radio that had a bluetooth stack full of buffer overruns, allowing you to hijack its CPU, which cross-connected various supposedly segmented busses, giving you remote access to the ECU. The demo I saw just rolled the windows down or remotely flash the headlights, but you could certainly stop the engine, turn off traction control, unrecoverably crash the ECU, etc.

  • Low Battery (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 14, 2013 @07:09PM (#42903037)

    If he was only driving a Tesla Model S he would have ran out of fuel in no time.

    Damn you fossil fuel vehicles!

  • 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.

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