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Jeeps and Car Washes – Beware and Be Aware

Software bugs show patterns

Question Mark Purple in Green circle jpgIn the software business, we pay attention to patterns of behavior when we’re looking for bugs. We ask questions like: when did the “unwanted” behavior occur, what happened before the unusual behavior occurred and what were the surrounding conditions?

Then we look to see the overall pattern. That helps us hone in on the software bug.

For example, I’ve seen strange things happening in financial systems where everything worked fine, day after day, except on the second business day of every month. That pattern gave the programmers a hint that they needed to look at how the programs were interpretting what to do when the following occured:

  • a month-end run had been performed
  • and the first end-of-day processes had been completed

….because after those two events, some (not all) of the numbers stopped being right.

Unfortunate patterns emerging in car software

Now that our cars can have up to 20 million lines of code and every square foot of the machine seems to hold an electronic device, it’s time to set up ways to watch for unusual patterns of behaviour caused by software (and electronics) defects.

But, unfortunately at this time, it’s not happening … not yet. Government regulators seem vastly unprepared for the software problems posed by cars in the 21st century.

The story, below, serves to show us that we need to put an incident tracking system in place to monitor strange automobile behaviour and try to zero in on what’s happening.

Here’s an example of strange car behavior

Philadelphia Inquirer, Photo Credit NDN

Philadelphia Inquirer, Photo Credit NDN

In a Philadelphia Inquirer article titled, “Runaway Jeep Grand Cherokees have led to crashes, car wash owners say,” Jeff Moritz highlighted that at the end of a car wash, yet another Jeep Grand Cherokee raced out of control after going from Neutral to Drive. It ended up on top of the cars in front of it. Luckily, no one was hurt.

But back in Connecticut 2006, the very same thing happened in Connecticut except this time, a 53-year-old man was hit and killed by a runaway Jeep.

At that point, noting that runaway Jeeps had been reported at a number of car washes across the U.S., the American Car Wash Association warned its members that they should not allow Jeeps through their car washes.

The first incident happened about 10 years ago in Wilmington . . . when a Grand Cherokee flew out of the lot, hitting two cars and a tree, causing about $30,000 in damage, which the shop’s insurance company paid…

After one Jeep incident, Chris Debbas did some research and then banned Jeeps from his car wash until he could build “a concrete barrier at the wash exit to prevent the same thing from happening.”

Lawsuit Threatened Against Association

Rather than thanking the Car Wash Association for finding patterns with their Jeeps’ electronics and car washes, this is what happened:

Palese, the Chrysler spokesman, characterized the
association’s response to sudden-acceleration reports as an “aggressive” campaign against the carmaker, for which Chrysler threatened to sue.

The association subsequently “softened its position” on Jeeps in their car washes.

However, Doug Newman, a former car wash owner who witnessed four car wash accidents — all Jeeps — said that if he still owned a car wash business, he would not service Jeeps.

Politicians, engineers and consumer advocacy group ask NHTSA to investigate

Politicians and engineers have asked the National Hightway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to investigate the situation. In August 2014, the Center for Auto Safety in Washington asked the the regulator to investigate the “totally integrated power module” in model year 2007-14 Chrysler SUVs, including Jeeps due to defects such as SUA and airbags failing to deploy.

Nearly one year later, there is no word from the NHTSA as to whether it will investigate the situation.

Source: The Philadelpia Inquirer (May 11, 2015)

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