Car thieves cannot outrun OnStar

  • 04-Aug-2008 12:56 EDT

For one of the OnStar-equipped Chevrolet Tahoes at a demonstration in Pittsburgh, the new Stolen Vehicle Slowdown service performed as promised, with no loss of control, although having all systems functioning without accelerator input was peculiar. Harry Eva­ns

The news services are going to lose interest in their car-chase coverage as more vehicles begin to feature OnStar’s new Stolen Vehicle Slowdown service. Instead of the dangerous high-speed chase inevitably ending in a nasty crash, the cameras will follow a car that simply begins to slow down as if a responsible driver were behind the wheel.

OnStar’s new service, offered as standard for the first year with the complimentary package, is available on select 2009 General Motors vehicles. After the first complimentary year, the service is standard with OnStar’s base package.

Over 95% of consumers are reported as wanting the service, but subscribers can opt-out at any time.

Working in conjunction with the existing electronics module installed on every OnStar equipped car, the new service functions through software changes linking the module to the drive-by-wire powertrain control system. In a similar manner to the remote unlocking service already offered, OnStar command center personnel are able to remotely access the vehicle’s computers once authorization is given.

With police intervention, (vehicle owners cannot request that their vehicle be stopped) OnStar fires a signal to the stolen car, flashing the car’s external lights without the driver knowing. Once police confirm that the lights have flashed on the stolen car, another signal is sent to the vehicle that shuts off all accelerator input to the engine. The car idles to a walking pace, with all other systems (steering, brakes) functioning as normal.

Trying to trick the device is impossible as well. In neutral, the engine functions and revs normally, but as soon as the selector is placed into forward or reverse, the engine speed instantly drops to idle. At no time does the instrument panel warn that the thief is about to be slowed, allowing the police to retain the element of surprise. The dashboard shows an “engine power is reduced” message, but only after the system has been triggered.

With over 30,000 police chases per year and 300 deaths as a direct result, the service will see use in real-world applications. "We look forward to having technologies like Stolen Vehicle Slowdown available to aid our officers in apprehending suspected car thieves and keeping our officers, highways, and citizens safe," said David Hiller, National Vice President, Fraternal Order of Police.

The Stolen Vehicle Slowdown service works hand-in-hand with the existing Stolen Vehicle Location Assistance, which uses GPS to find stolen cars and is requested about 700 times per month.

The slowdown service will roll out in about 1.7 million new cars next year.

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