Runaway Electric Car

An interesting  report on a significant software failure in an EV:

'I was kidnapped by my runaway electric car' - BBC News

"Soon after he made the call, three police vehicles arrived and drove in front and behind the car.

He said: "I was 100% concentrating on my steering, so when a police van pulled up besides me and asked if I was Brian and if I was okay, I just yelled 'no I'm not, I can't stop'."

Police asked Mr Morrison to throw his electronic key through their van window before driving off, and then tried forcibly shutting off the engine - but nothing could stop the car.

He was also asked to hold the power button for a couple of seconds which also failed to stop it and the entire dashboard lit up with faults."

So drive by wire and brake by wire both apparently failed. The steering which I assume is mechanical with power assistance remained functional. I wonder how this fits with the 'Motor Vehicle Construction and Use Regulations'?

Should EV's have emergency shutdown buttons like trams do?

  • I doubt if we will hear any more details. Pressing the wrong pedal etc. seems unlikely due to the duration of the event. If it was 'the car wouldn't stop and I hit something' pedal confusion is quite likely. If he was able to remove the keycard and pass it to the police I am sure that the police would have suggested that he check which pedal he is pressing.

  • Hi Roger

    Have a look at EV Nick on Youtube

    He offered some suggestions and some points to ponder.

    It is irrelevant that this was an EV, the issue could also happen to an ICE.  The main issue was that it is an automatic gearbox.

    Nick suggests that there are several things that could be used to stop the car.

    Foot brake which uses a combination of Mechanical breaking as well as power assisted braking.

    Hand brake, even the new style which are just a pull up switch have a backup mode if pulled up for 10 seconds to engage an emergency break.

    On/Off button if held depressed for 15 - 20 seconds can do an emergency break and shutdown the car

    This then seems to suggest the car in question had mutliple safety system failures at the same time.  It is possible but I doubt it. 

    I really hope that once the car has been looked at by the investigators they allow us to see the findings.  If this truely is a ElectroMechanicalSystem issue they may need to issue a recall on the model of car.  Lets wait for the facts from all the stakeholders and then we can discuss this further. 

  • the car has been looked at by the investigators

    Would it be looked at by independent investigators? I'm not an expert in automotive incidents but I'm not sure it would. I would have thought the police would only investigate up to the point where they would decide whether to bring charges against the driver, if they decide not to then I wouldn't have thought they would take it any further (if there had been a fatality it would be different). The owner's insurance company may well try to make a claim against the manufacturer, but that's a private matter. And the manufacturer's internal investigation (which is almost certain to take place, as they won't want to risk reputational damage) will be very strictly confidential. No car manufacturer wants other manufacturers to know how its cars are designed, let alone what potential product flaws are.

    At present in the UK there is not a Road Safety Investigation Branch to independently review road accidents and hence try to prevent future accidents (in the way that the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, Rail Accident Investigation Branch and Marine Accident Investigation Branch do in their fields). Although we are getting nearer to having one:

    I'm not saying any of this is morally "right" or "wrong", but in general unless a product failure directly results in a fatality then the commercial confidentiality of the manufacturer takes precedence over a public report of that failure. In some fields it's decided that the risks and public interest are so high that independent bodies are set up to carry out such investigations in the public domain, hence the setting up of the AAIB, RAIB and MAIB. Given that road incidents cause more fatalities than all of these put together it is perhaps surprising that it's only now that the RSIB is being considered, but I suspect that's because up to now accidents have always been considered to be the driver's / car owner's problem. I haven't looked at the background to the proposed setting up of the RSIB in detail, but I suspect it's the potential introduction of autonomous vehicles, and hence the movement of responsibility to manufacturers, that's prompted it.

    The challenge is that if a vehicle is publicly announced to have a potentially life-threatening design flaw, then that can severely damage the reputation of that manufacturer (and indeed drive them out of business) even if every other vehicle from every other manufacturer has exactly the same design flaw. Equally for any other bit of engineering we work on. We went through this in the rail industry 25 years ago where individual companies would not admit any liability in public, and in some cases (Potters Bar) would not assist in investigations for fear of reputational damage. So the RAIB had to be very carefully set up as a "no blame" organisation, just trying to identify the problems that need to be fixed across the industry to prevent accidents re-occurring - but equally with powers to access any required evidence. This was, grudgingly in some cases, accepted by the rail industry suppliers (who had no choice anyway). How well it will work with the proposed RSIB and the famously highly secretive automotive industry, which is largely based outside the UK, remains to be seen. Personally I hope it does get through and works.

    And of course, as engineers, when reading about other engineer's mistakes remember that there but for the grace of etc go any of us...and think about: if it was our mistake, what would we want to happen? 



  • set up as a "no blame" organisation, just trying to identify the problems that need to be fixed across the industry to prevent accidents re-occurring

    I like the sound of that idea.  I can imagine that people will not be helpful if they think they are liable.  I also think that as engineers we should look at issues and try and resolve them or make things better and reduce the amount of Risk Management Appitite that some organisation have gone for. 

    As an example the American NTSB help making air travel and cargo safer.  Every time there is an incident they investigate and find the casation and the events in the lead up and then the final part in the conclusion with recomendation which most airline companies implement very switly. 

  • No matter what the technical problems are, the `drive' towards an autonomous road traffic system will continue.

    The self driving car is all about traffic control, as volume rises speed can be limited, routes can be changed to limit congestion (maybe).

    There is no guarantee however that the system protocol will be secure as it would need to be open source to accommodate the variety of different manufacturers technology. 

    Would it not be better to negate the need to travel by car in the first place if we are serious about conservation, environmental damage and climate change.

    It is estimated that the current cost of repairing the nations roads is £14b will this not also contribute to climate change. 

    What will the police do when the `motorist' can no longer be relied upon to commit traffic offences I wonder?