Keyless Ignition in Emergencies: Do you know what to do?

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.

Button in the G37

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)

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About Richard Pak

Associate Professor at Clemson University/Department of Psychology

4 Responses to Keyless Ignition in Emergencies: Do you know what to do?

  1. Pierre-Yves Roh January 31, 2010 at 1:19 pm #

    Keyless Ignition in Emergencies: Do you know what to do? http://bit.ly/bxrZ4w via @AddToAny

  2. Eric Wiebe February 11, 2010 at 8:32 am #

    We’ve had a Prius in the family since 2006 and I can still remember the first time getting in one to drive. I had not a clue how to get it started; there was no carry-over from my 30+ years of driving. As cars move from mechanical, to electro-mechanical, to computer-assisted, and finally to computer-controlled, the abstraction layer between what you do and how the car responds becomes more and more daunting. Personally, I don’t find a three second hold any more or less intuitive than three successive taps. The three second hold is similar to some portable music players and cell phones, but I don’t know if I’d necessarily think to map that behavior to driving my car. The most sensible suggestion that came out of the LA Times article is the brake override: when the brake is pressed, the throttle automatically goes back to idle….In the meantime, perhaps I’ll buy a boat anchor to put in the seat next to me–in case of emergency, throw out the window…

  3. Jack Andrews June 9, 2010 at 10:08 pm #

    My wife couldn’t start the car today with the keyless ignition 2010 Toyato Camry. The dealer told her there was a number of places in Cedar Rapids that caused interferrence. He told her to put the button close to the start button and try starting the car. She finally got out of the car and and lock and unlock the car three time and then the car started. Does anyone know what is going on with this design.

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