What Can You Do?

Protecting Yourself and Those You Love

Happy family of five together at homeBuilding the proper software safety laws will take time, but there are steps we can take to protect ourselves as best we can. There are two focal points: what to do right now to protect yourself from faulty software and encouraging governments to enact Software Safety Laws (we call them “Laws With Claws”).

If you’re stuck in a runaway car

A quick summary if you are driving a car that suddenly accelerates and you can’t make it stop:

  • don’t panic
  • put the car in neutral
  • turn the engine off

If you have a push button key, remember to press the button and keep pressing it until the engine turns off.

(More detail below.)

Things You Should Know

Button - Protect Yourself pngYou can — and should — report unusual car behaviour to a government agency. Knowledge is power and consolidated information about what’s actually happening to people because of the software in their cars is an important first step to help regulators take the steps required to protect the public.

Around the world, there are various ways that governments regulate the physical design, construction, testing and monitoring of automobiles. Although to consumers, software is “invisible,” the fact is that we also need rigorous laws around its design, construction, testing and monitoring of software in automobiles.

At the bottom of this page, we’ve listed what you can do right now to help change the software safety problems we are experiencing and what to consider when you buy your next car.

What to Do While Driving and Encounter a Problem

While we can’t go through all of the variations on a theme with respect to software failures, there are two key things to know about in terms of ultra-dangerous things that can happen:

  1. What to do if you experience Sudden Unintended Acceleration (SUA)
  2. What to do if your engine suddenly shuts down while driving.

You can print this information and distribute freely.

What to do if your car suddenly accelerates

SUA – Sudden Unintended Acceleration. Occurs when the vehicle suddenly speeds up. When this happens, typically the brakes don’t work, not even the emergency brake. Cars can reach speeds of over 120 m.p.h. (190 k.m.h.).

If you experience SUA, there are a few steps that you can take that mechanics and engineers have listed on blogs and in articles and we are summarizing here.

First, and most importantly, remember this: if you can’t get control of the vehicle, put the car in neutral and immediately turn the engine off.

  1. Remain calm and stay focused.
  2. Press the brakes HARD and hold them down but do not pump the brakes.
  3. Put the car in neutral and turn the ignition OFF
  4. If you have a “push button” ignition, press the push button ignition for as long as it takes to turn the engine off.
  5. Put on your flashers and then slowly move to the shoulder of the road (if you can do so safely) or stay put and wait for help as you sit in your car in the middle of the road.
  6. Call for a tow truck (or 911 if someone is hurt or there has been a collision) and then report the problem to the correct government authority.

Now, remember, with your car turned off, a lot of things won’t work, like airbags and other safety features. But airbags didn’t protect scores of people who have died as a result of SUA.

What to do if your engine suddenly shuts down

Mechanical problems in some Hyundais, Fords, GM, Chrysler and likely other manufacturers’ vehicles have mechanical and/or software problems either with their ignitions or transmissions that:

  • Allows cars to just roll away while parked (hence, the value of always, always putting on your parking brakes), and also
  • Cut power to the engine while you are driving, which then causes the steering and brakes to malfunction and the airbags not to deploy.

Having your engine stop and your brakes not work very well if you’re going up- or down-hill can be very traumatic. If at any time your engine suddenly shuts itself down while you are driving:

  1. Always remember The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Number One Rule: Don’t Panic.
  2. Press the brakes hard and keep them pressed – pumping them seems to rob them of strength.
  3. Put your flashers on and try to pull over to the side of the road, if you can.
  4. Call for a tow truck (or 911 if someone is hurt or there has been a collision) and then report the problem to the correct government authority.

AND, whenever you park your car:

  1. At all times, put your parking brakes on (special note: sadly, some parking brakes are also controlled by software…).

What You Do to Reduce Your Risk

#1 – Say “no” to the software bells and whistles.

Remember, a “fully loaded” car is like a loaded gun.

When buying a new vehicle, do your best to select the one with the least amount of software “bells and whistles” and be sure to tell the sales person and the dealership why you want less software, not more.

One of the first facts to understand when building software is that the more complicated something is, the more likely it will brake. That’s why formal software quality management techniques need to be understood and supported by top management, but they aren’t.

Think of a chain. If you have two links, there is only one place where the chain might brake. If you have 40 links, there are 39 places where the chain could brake. Today’s software is a com-plex web of interactions.

Apply the KISSS Principle (Keep the Software Simple, Stupid) when buying a car and you might be saving your life.

#2 – Understand what the heck the software you’re stuck with is doing.

Even cars that aren’t “fully loaded” will have a lot of things that are run by software.

Remember, software is basically a decision-making device. It is designed to make decisions for you. In Mark Saylor’s case, his car’s software decided to take control of the vehicle and there was nothing he could do about it.

Take the time to understand what the software in your car is doing and where things might go wrong. Ask the dealership to help you understand all of the software that controls your vehicle. These days, it can include:

  • The brakes (both while driving and while parked).
  • Acceleration.
  • Ignition.
  • Cruise Control.
  • Doors.
  • Headlights.
  • Steering Wheel.
  • Airbag Release.
  • Seatbelts.
  • Speedometer.
  • Windows.
  • The black box that records driver behavior.
  • and more.

#3 – Report all strange (vehicle) behaviour.

If the car “mysteriously” does something (like speeds up with-out you knowing why, or turns itself off, or the brakes temporarily fail, or the doors pop open while you’re driving), make a note of it and immediately report it to both the dealer and to car safety agencies, both government and citizen-based.

Keep a record of this unusual behaviour and the fact that you did, indeed report it.

Why report? Two reasons:

  1. Automobile companies are required by law in the U.S. and other jurisdictions to report problems and fatalities associated with the operation of their vehicles — and they sometimes don’t.
  2. The more information gathered on different vehicles and different types of software problems, the easier it will be for the car companies to fix in the long run. It helps them perform “root cause analysis” (which we will explain as this site is built out) and this leads to improving the software.

#4 – Advocate for software safety laws

Support citizen action groups calling for software safety laws and contact politicians to explain why it’s important to take action now.

As we build out the site, we will provide more information on how to do this and what to ask for. In the meantime, you can write to your federal representative and to the leader of your government to help them understand how important it is that we protect citizens from bad software.

#5 – Forewarn friends and family.

Family portrait in kitchen.Tell your friends and family and co-workers and people at the grocery store – anyone you come across who drives a car or some-times sits in one (in other words, everybody!) – about the fact that broken software in our cars is now killing people and that we have to do something about it.

And ask them to take the steps necessary to try to protect them-selves and those they love, and guide them to Glitch Watch for more information.