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A panic button to stop runaway cars?

Safety leaders are proposing a consistent way to shut down a runaway car: a panic button that responds after a half-second.

By MSN Money Partner Dec 14, 2011 3:07PM

This post comes from Des Toups at partner site on MSN MoneyThat big button marked "Start" on your car's dashboard may soon be marked "Stop."


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants to standardize keyless ignition systems to make sure drivers can shut off a runaway car. The move was prompted largely by complaints from hundreds of owners unable to stop their Toyotas and attention surrounding a high-profile accident that killed a family of four in 2009.


The hunt for the culprit behind the incidents provoked a firestorm of finger-pointing among politicians, safety organizations and the car insurance industry.


Those unintended acceleration incidents have been mostly attributed to accelerator-pedal design or floor mats wedged atop them, but NHTSA says a consistent means of shutting down the car is needed no matter what provokes the crisis. Currently, some cars will respond to a brief push on the starter button, some require a continuous push of two to three seconds and others may shut down after repeated jabs.


The proposed rule would require any car without a physical key to have a standardized button that stops the engine with a half-second push. The rule also would require some kind of audible warning when a driver tries to:

  • Shut down the engine without putting the transmission in park.
  • Leave the car without putting the transmission in park.
  • Leave the car without shutting down the engine first.

Post continues below.

Know how to shut down your car?

Keyless systems were installed in about one out of 10 cars sold in 2008, NHTSA says. They've only grown in popularity since then, appearing even on such low-budget models as the Ford Fiesta.


Currently the procedure to stop a running engine differs not only from manufacturer to manufacturer, but from car to car. Renters, drivers with multiple vehicles and drivers unfamiliar with the newer technology might benefit from a standardized procedure.


NHTSA complaint No. 10370169, regarding a 2009 Toyota Camry, is typical:

As the consumer moved the gear from park to drive, with his foot on the brake, the vehicle began to accelerate and roar, the RPMs had redlined and the vehicle began to move forward and the brakes would not stop the vehicle from moving forward. The consumer put the gear in neutral and the vehicle was still accelerating. The consumer then immediately shifted the gear into park and the vehicle came to a screeching halt. … Inspection revealed nothing wrong with vehicle. Also, the tires had to be replaced due to excess wear.

Pressing that Camry's push-button starter would have worked, but only if held for three seconds, Car and Driver magazine found.


Even so, it's worth noting that the car insurance industry, which sets its prices based on the auto insurance claims for each model, has made the Toyota Camry one of the cheapest new models to insure.


More on and MSN Money:

Dec 14, 2011 11:42PM
I guess people forgot what the neutral position does on the gearshift. If the car starts running away shift to neutral and turn off the ignition. This happened to a friend of mine and it immediatly stopped the car. Pretty simple, but in this push button world people don't know how to think anymore.
Dec 14, 2011 10:25PM

All they have to do is read your owners manual, it explains everything, you can't fix stupid


Dec 14, 2011 9:43PM

I liked the old donosaur analog cars better... This computer controlled fly by seems reliable but still eventually breaks and costs too much to repair at the dealer when it goes... The old key switches, cables, hand crank windows and locks at least could be repaired by the owner.

Even adding panic buttons can be a risk if accidentally pressed and potentially could cause accidents...  

Dec 15, 2011 1:46AM
Funny how that BIG "Start Button on the Dash" that seems like such a big deal now was on some cars back in the '40s.  (Maybe not quite as big) Everything old is new again given time!!  As for the Panic Button, that sounds like a great idea!   I think they have them at Staples? Party
Dec 14, 2011 10:07PM
Give me a key. Easy to use and turn off in a panic situation. I would never trust a button to work right. All the car companies are trying to do is save a buck or two. Don't fool around with my safety.
Dec 14, 2011 9:31PM
or you could just be intelligent and familiarize yourself with how a car works before driving one... as everyone should be forced to do in drivers ed... personally if you're too stupid to stop a runaway car then you shouldn't be driving one... i dont want my friends pushing the button as a joke while i'm driving down the road.
Dec 15, 2011 9:19AM

Uh, how about teaching people to drive this new junk properly instead of putting more idiots that can't drive behind the wheel???   

If we want to outlaw anything, make them ditch the drive by wire crap!  I have it on one of my cars and I will never buy another newer car with it again..  Give me my throttle cable and control over my car back to me.

The dumbing down of America continues.. .

Dec 15, 2011 1:11AM

All vehicles have a neutral position, use it.  Even with power steering and power breaks you can turn the steering and press on the breaks. Yes, it is not as easy. But what are the other options, maybe crash and die. Unless the transmission is in park for an automatic and reverse for a standard transmission, the key cannot be put in the lock position. But with a car that does not have a physical switch to cut the power to the engine, put a kill button. But until then, the engine will race until it blows up. That is still better than having an accident. So for all vehicles, put the vehicle in neutral and put on the breaks, stop, put it in park then turn the key off (lock position) to turn the engine off. All you have to do is think and do not panic.  There should never be runaway vehicles with this siltation

Auto Mechanic

Dec 14, 2011 11:18PM

stupid people make stupid law--stupid people make stupid cars --- and stupid people drives stupid cars     where is the common sense      

Dec 15, 2011 10:35AM
If you make a car idiot proof, then only idiots will drive them. 
Dec 14, 2011 11:22PM

im still waiting for factory ejection seats. Sick of having to make custom ones...


I'm serious, its saved my life several times now already.

Dec 14, 2011 9:58PM
Why would the car not stop if shifted into neutral?  And the tires needed replacing because of excess wear?  How many times did this car do this?  I am a car enthusiast and this happened to me many years ago.  It should be just instinct, shift into neutral and stand on the brake pedal.

I think all new vehicles are drive by wire as far as the accelerator is concerned- i.e. the gas pedal moves the wiper on a potentiometer and the computer interprets this signal and adjust the engine speed. Just connect a $10 relay to the brake circuit that ties in with the speed pot. Step on the brake and the CPU sees a “zero call for acceleration”. Even when people panic and press both pedals, to the CPU it will appear that you are not touching the gas pedal. This eliminates TONS of engineering and guv’mint regulations, not to mention literal tons of money wasted. For the sake of electrical noise and reliability, I would use an opto-isolator instead of a relay. Cheap and idiot/panic proof.

PS- this could all be done with a software update to the CPU, the above is just a redundant safety measure.

Dec 14, 2011 7:02PM
What don't people realize, that if your toyota is accelerating, and you can't stop it, YOU SHIFT IT INTO NEUTRAL..  Goodness, we don't need to put more pointless standards into cars, instead we need to educate people.  If you don't know that you should put the car into neutral when you can't control the engine, then you probably shouldn't be driving.
Dec 14, 2011 8:35PM
How is it we send thousands of young men to their deaths fighting someone else's war but make a big deal out of the deaths of 4 or 5 people who weren't smart enough to control a vehicle???
Dec 14, 2011 7:58PM
You don't need stupid keyless locks so you can shut off the car.  It is called "turn the key to the off position".  Put the gear into neutral, Put the brakes on.  In other words,  USE YOUR STUPID HEAD.
Dec 15, 2011 10:34AM

It was proven in all but one incident with toyota that it was user error that caused the accidents. 


Stupid is what Stupid does.


If it has a key turn it to the off position,  if it doesnt have a key put the car in neutral. 

Dec 14, 2011 7:23PM
Who came up with the bright idea to use a "Start" button anyway?
I thought those were phased out back in the 50s?
Another stupid idea? Letting the cars computer run the throttle.
Yes!! Shift into NEUTRAL. The worst that can happen is the motor exploding.
New cars have so much unnecessary junk on them now, why add more?
Engineers don't need to make cars safer, owners just need to leave their cell-phones at home and take their brain with them when they drive.

Dec 14, 2011 10:17PM

     I have my doubts about the whole runaway car thing.. If neutral can not be set manually or turning off the key can not stop the engine then the manufacturer has disabled the 2 main safeties' the car already had.. It has been noted that 2 things will stop the runaway syndrome in the Camary.. 1 = depressing the brake and shifting into reverse or park or 2 = stepping on the gas and shifting into low..

     If someone wanted a computer shutdown easy button installed on their dash this could be accomplished by wiring a switch into the fuse for the computer.. You could make it cut the power or cut the power and blow the fuse or cut the power, blow the fuse and blow the computer.. I would be willing to install this accessory for a starting price of $59.95..

     A stuck throttle on 2 cars has prompted me to turn off the ignition and coast to a stop.. Why do engineers try to outdo each other and overcomplicate the simplest of systems into stealth bomber technology??

     Best solution is do not buy this cra$ technology and they will stop offering it..

Dec 15, 2011 8:38AM
These people are over-complicating the issue.  If keyless ignitions are such a problem, then get rid of them and standardize on keyed ignitions.  Problem solved.
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