Redesigning Toyota’s Keyless Ignition System

The LA Times reporters Ken Bensinger and Ralph Vartabedian recently wrote a story about keyless ignition systems and the associated HF issues (we blogged about it here).  In a follow-up story, they report that Toyota is considering redesigning the system so that instead of requiring a single 3-second press to shut off the engine, it now requires 3 consecutive presses.  This is to address the fact that drivers, in emergency situations, don’t readily know how to stop the car:

Amid its widening recall crisis, Toyota Motor Corp. said it had moved closer to adopting changes to its push-button ignition system to give drivers an added margin of safety if their vehicles accelerate out of control.

Executives at the company’s headquarters in Japan are considering redesigning the keyless ignition system, known as Smart Key, to allow drivers to shut off the engine by tapping the button three times in a row, company spokesman Brian Lyons said.

But it might be a hasty fix since very little research has gone into how users expect it to operate:

Paul Green, a human factors expert at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, said Toyota and other carmakers have designed push-button start systems with very little research about how consumers naturally expect such systems to operate.  Green said that if Toyota now rushes a redesign into production without any new research, “it is really risky.”

I was quoted too:

According to Richard Pak, a professor of psychology at Clemson University who studies human interaction with technology, the safest kind of ignition switch is one that works in an intuitive manner. That’s because in a panic situation, humans “revert to [very well] learned behavior.”

“When you’re out of control at 80 miles per hour, you’re not going to remember complicated things,” Pak said.

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