This story in the LA Times illustrates several important HF/usability issues. First, the importance of knowing what the user knows before introducing new, seemingly “simple” technology, or changing the way they currently do things (in this case, what people know about ignition systems and how they start their cars). Second, like the story about the alarms, it also clearly illustrates that using things under normal circumstances is different for people under stress.
The sleek Infiniti G37 Cindy Marsh bought last August was the car of her dreams, equipped with the latest keyless electronics technology that allows her to start the engine with the touch of a button.
But right away, the system gave her trouble. To get the engine started, she would sometimes have to tap the power button repeatedly. Sometimes it wouldn’t start unless she opened and closed the car doors, Marsh recalled.
She eventually adapted to the system’s quirks but said that even now she isn’t sure how to shut off the engine in an emergency.
In complaints to federal regulators, motorists have reported that they were unable to shut down engines during highway emergencies, including sudden acceleration events. In other cases, parked vehicles accidentally rolled away and engines were left running for hours without their owners realizing it.
And although traditional keys all work the same way and are universally understood by consumers, automakers have adopted different procedures for using the keyless ignition systems. As a result, owners may not know how to operate their own cars in an emergency, let alone a rented or borrowed car.
(Post image by http://www.flickr.com/photos/7755055@N04/2881681649)