Yet another cringe worthy headline showed up on Twitter recently. A man trapped in his car because the battery was dead. And for 14 hours. Fortunately, the car wasn’t outside in the sun, or the outcome would have been very, very different.
This one hits home for us because of another incident several years ago that prompted this article on this site, but in this case, a man lost his life. So, all this needs a more thorough examination.
The problem is finding oneself locked in a car that has lost its power. It is a direct result of the move to all electronic everything, right down to the door latches. It is also the result of very, very poor design.
Both of the incidents involve GM Coupes: a Chevrolet Corvette and a Cadillac XLR. They feature these flush door handles with a electronic button inside this opening that unlocks and opens the door if the key fob is present. If the power is lost when inside the car, the electronic button on the armrest no longer works, and while there is a back up option, it is not remotely obvious and effectively not intuitive.
The back up option is a mechanical release handle on the floor below the door, not on the door where any typical human would think to look. In the most recent episode, the owners manual was missing from the 12 year old XLR, which is all too common in older vehicles. And he didn’t have a cell phone with him, or he surely would have been out of his car much sooner.
In the previous incident, the gentleman had gone to the car to check on his dog, leaving his cell phone behind. Relatives reported that there was evidence that the man was looking through the manual for help when he succumbed to the heat. He and dog passed away.
It is far too easy to blame the victim here. It is true that they were not familiar with the feature. Both cars were bought used, so expecting the seller to go over more obscure features is wishful thinking.
It is also way too easy to blame age — the men were 75 and 72, respectively. This is when I point to an incident relayed by 20 year olds. Their friend had bought a new BMW. He then let them in the car to check it out and locked the car from the outside.
The joke was that there was no way to unlock the doors from the inside. I immediately pointed out that there IS a way out — just not where you would expect to look. The unlock button is placed in the middle of the dashboard, and the entire group was clearly unfamiliar with this quirk in a BMW. And it belongs exclusively to BMW.
Age is NOT the issue. Expectation and intuition is. Where did these 20-somethings look for an unlock button?
Back to technology and design, Tesla’s vehicles all feature electronic latches. As to getting out, the rear doors in the Model S require pulling a cable located under each rear seat. The front doors are released mechanically from the inside.
All the Model X doors are all mechanically released from the inside. Perfect.
The Model 3 has a mechanical handle exactly where you would hope. On the armrest pretty much where a hand would actually be while using the armrest. It was tempting to simply open the door with it each time. A superior design.
The latest Lincoln Continental also has electronic door latches. A back up release is just below the armrest but still on the door, and only the driver’s door. However, Lincoln says that the doors will not remain latched if the power goes out.
The last two examples are far better thought out. And before anyone else finds themselves trapped in a GM Coupe, irrespective of age, we think a new way to open the doors from the inside must be devised and the cars recalled.
In our last show, we talked about changing the behavior of the one vs the behavior of the millions. And this is yet another example.
Changing the one, the manufacturer, eliminates the need for millions drivers to read, and frankly memorize, crucial new features or the entire owner’s manual. It also eliminates the need for millions of salespeople to somehow suddenly become effective teachers. Someone else’s dad, mom, brother, sister, son, daughter, husband or wife should not have to die or nearly die over poorly thought out designs.