High-speed car chases are exciting in the movies but scary in real life. Not only scary, but often deadly. Last year 334 people were killed in the U.S. in crashes that resulted from police pursuits, according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration.
About a year ago, GM’s OnStar unit added a stolen vehicle slowdown service to its other stolen vehicle services. OnStar said that since the slowdown service was launched – about a year ago – it has been used 38 times for various reasons, such as thefts from dealer lots, or to prevent a high-speed chase from starting. Recently, however, in Visalia, Calif., it was used for the first time to help a subscriber who had been carjacked at gunpoint.
Once OnStar advisors verified that the subscriber’s 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe had been stolen and that the subscriber had requested assistance, they were able to locate the Tahoe and alert Visalia police officers. OnStar then initiated a feature called Remote Ignition Block, to ensure that if the suspect stopped the vehicle before the officers were able to locate it visually, he wouldn’t be able to restart it.
When officers had the vehicle in sight, they requested that OnStar initiate stolen vehicle slowdown. OnStar sent a signal to the vehicle’s engine that reduced engine power and gradually slowed the vehicle to idle speed while all other vehicle systems, including power steering and brakes, remained fully operational.
As soon as the vehicle had been slowed to a stop, the suspect attempted to escape on foot but was quickly caught by the officers without incident. OnStar said that from the time it was notified by the owner, it took less than 16 minutes to locate the vehicle and slow it to a stop.
OnStar said it receives receives approximately 500 stolen vehicle assistance requests from subscribers each month. For 2010, the stolen vehicle slowdown feature is available on 18 of the 30 GM models on which OnStar is available.