Caixin
Mar 17, 2018 03:39 PM
BUSINESS & TECH

Driver Races Past Toll Booths as Cruise Control Stuck at 75 Mph

(Beijing) — After his Mercedes-Benz got stuck in cruise control at 120 kph (75 mph), a driver in China discovered that it involved very little “cruising” and almost no “control.”

The man, an amateur car racer surnamed Xue, was on a highway Wednesday night that connects China’s Henan and Shaanxi provinces, when he found he was unable to turn off his vehicle’s cruise mode.

Nothing could fix the problem, Xue said — switching off the function, braking, shifting gears. At one point he whizzed through a crowded toll area at full speed.

He even tried calling a Mercedes-Benz help-line, but the instructions he was given failed to return control of the acceleration.

Then, unlike most speeders, he called the police.

Two police cars quickly located him on the highway, and one drove in front of him to clear the roads and one followed behind, according to Chang An Sword, an account on social media platform WeChat that focuses on political and legal news.

After an hour, the car’s stubborn cruise control finally relented. But questions remain about how.

Some media outlets reported that Mercedes-Benz, owned by Daimler AG, was able to remotely disable the automatic mode, which Xue denied. He said he simply opened and closed the car door repeatedly, and somehow this did the trick, allowing him to decelerate to under 30 kph.

Mercedes-Benz said it has reached out to Xue and a team of experts has been dispatched to investigate the case.

Its cars have multiple vehicle-safety systems that allow the driver to engage the brakes under extreme conditions, Mercedes-Benz said in a statement following the incident.

One technician told Caixin that, “cruise control is a mature technology, and the accelerator and brakes belong to different, independent systems. The odds that the two systems, with their high security levels, would have problems at the same time are low.”

But an automobile-technology expert at Tsinghua University’s Suzhou Automotive Research Institute, Dai Yifan, told Caixin that no technological difficulties prevent carmakers from controlling the braking system. Some high-end vehicles equipped with driver-assistance technologies allow carmakers to have remote access, he said. But carmakers would only use this function “very prudently."

The technician added that the remote “service” would be activated and used only under special circumstances, such as when a car is stolen.

A professor at Tsinghua’s Department of Automation, Yao Danya, said the breakdown of a cruise control system is rare, and if the incident is not handled well, it would deal a blow to public confidence in smart cars.

Contact reporter Pan Che (chepan@caixin.com)


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