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Old 02-24-2010, 09:38 AM   #1
Spenk
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Default Pushbutton Start: Time for a Re-think?

Are Pushbutton Starters Just a Bit Too Cute?
Posted by Brian Cooley


Pushbuttons for turning a car on or off were, until recently, an exotic touch on a few sporty cars that harkened back to the fashion of purebred vintage racers. So why is there one on a Mercedes SUV? Because cabin electronics are a big selling point in cars today and the pushbutton starter is one piece of gimcrack that wows ‘em in the showroom . Too bad it can kill you.

Sound extreme? Well, did you ever read the reports of drivers being unable to get their runaway Toyotas under control and wonder “why didn’t they just put the car in neutral or turn it off?” I can’t explain the neutral thing; blind panic I assume. But I can understand why some people might not be able to turn their car off in a tense situation.

Depending on the make & model of car with a pushbutton starter, it works different ways and it’s never as simple and positive as turning a key a couple detents. Some cars require you press the button twice, or maybe three times in short succession. Sometimes it depends on how fast the car is moving or if the doors are open. Other cars require you lean on the button for 2 or maybe 3 seconds. Ever double-click the mouse on your computer a little too quickly or slowly to do what you wanted? That’s the sort of easy-to-bungle dexterity some cars now demand in order to turn them off. And leaning on a button for 2 or 3 seconds in a runaway car when your brain is screaming IS IT WORKING?! isn’t going to go well.

I would eschew the pushbutton starter altogether in exchange for an keyless switch. It’s sort of a stubby plastic key handle mounted on the steering column where the key used to go and mimics the physical behavior and feedback of one while retaining the convenience of keyless entry and start. An example of this is found of cars like the Mazda CX-9 we just had in the CNET test fleet.



(“Turn one way for on, the other way for off. Mazda's keyless key is clear from the very first time you use it.”)

Toyota doesn’t like that method and instead may take some voluntary steps to address this soon, by changing their pushbuttons to shut off with three quick presses rather than leaning on it for three seconds. Nice try, but still too fussy in an emergency.

At the very least it may be time for federal vehicle regulators – and believe I hate to involve them any further in automotive design -- to require pushbutton starters all work the same way. I don’t think pushbuttons will ever have the sure, positive operation of a key-like device but let’s at least create some universal driver knowledge of how they work. Such enforced commonality is not at all odd: You’d find it pretty unsettling if turn signals were operated by a stalk on some cars and by a knob or button on others.

This all risks making me sound like the luddite love child of Ralph Nader and Joan Claybrook but it’s a matter of safety and purpose: You spend the tiniest sliver of time starting and stopping your car, it’s not a big driver experience issue. Until you can’t do it when it counts.
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Old 02-24-2010, 09:46 AM   #2
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Never thought of push button starters being this dangerous before, but the article makes good sense. I definitely found Mazda's keyless system intuitive when I rented a 7 passenger CX-9 last year for a couple days.

FWIW, all race cars that use a push button starter have a KILL SWITCH as well.
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Old 02-24-2010, 10:22 AM   #3
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I don't mind using some keyless stub like the Mazda. I agree with an industry standard, but I'd rather see the industry adopt a standard amongst themselves (fat chance?) though. I'm just thinking if in the (near) future there is a change or a better idea, it would be a lot quicker to update and implement versus having some sort of gov't backed standard in place.
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Old 02-24-2010, 11:28 AM   #4
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I blame the Honda S2000. After that came out everyone wanted a push button start.
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Old 02-24-2010, 11:40 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BeatLA View Post
I blame the Honda S2000. After that came out everyone wanted a push button start.
I don't know that I agree with this, but for the topic at hand, there's a certain irony to talking about the S2000.

- If any car were to warrant a homage to racecar ignition, the S2000 would fit the bill.

- You still have to put the key in the ignition and turn it to "on", the red button only starts the engine. Stopping the engine during runaway acceleration would be as simple as turning the key.
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Old 02-24-2010, 11:59 AM   #6
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I do wish the ignition key was somewhere else, like on a SAAB. The WRX key fob will bang against the steering column at times...
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Old 02-24-2010, 12:23 PM   #7
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Must industry suffer from the incompetence of people who are not smart enough to turn off the key, or shift to neutral. Toyota is getting fried alive today in a congressional hearing, as this runaway thing is blown WAY out of proportion.
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Old 02-24-2010, 12:45 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SCRAPPYDO View Post
Must industry suffer from the incompetence of people who are not smart enough to turn off the key, or shift to neutral. Toyota is getting fried alive today in a congressional hearing, as this runaway thing is blown WAY out of proportion.
while i agree that most drivers are pretty incompetent, i still think you are underestimating what panic can do to people. being a car manufacture, toyota should have taken that "incompetence" into consideration and designed better. i hope this is an important lesson learned for toyota and other manufactures to promote whats more idiot-proof rather than what looks cooler in the press.
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Old 02-24-2010, 12:59 PM   #9
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Whether there is a push-button or a key it doesn't matter, the first thing you should do is slide the gear selector into neutral and slow down, if you shut the car off you have no power brakes, and no power steering (and if you turn the key too far your steering wheel locks), this makes any car designed to use these features hard, even impossible to control.

Most people will react very poorly in a panic situation. While they don't happen often, people should at least review in their mind what they should do in those situations, as maybe when they are in one, they may remember what steps to take to safely stop.
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Old 02-24-2010, 01:24 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by samagon View Post
Whether there is a push-button or a key it doesn't matter, the first thing you should do is slide the gear selector into neutral and slow down, if you shut the car off you have no power brakes, and no power steering (and if you turn the key too far your steering wheel locks), this makes any car designed to use these features hard, even impossible to control.

Most people will react very poorly in a panic situation. While they don't happen often, people should at least review in their mind what they should do in those situations, as maybe when they are in one, they may remember what steps to take to safely stop.
toyota (prius) ignores it when u put it in neutral
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Old 02-24-2010, 01:53 PM   #11
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Cars need to be more involved.

Nowadays people only know steering wheel, gas pedal, brake pedal, D, R, and P. Everything else is done for them.
If you actually had to drive your car you'd probably know how to handle almost any situation that came up.
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Old 02-24-2010, 02:04 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by justincredible View Post
Cars need to be more involved.

Nowadays people only know steering wheel, gas pedal, brake pedal, D, R, and P. Everything else is done for them.
If you actually had to drive your car you'd probably know how to handle almost any situation that came up.
Drivers need to be more involved (with driving).

The article excuses drivers for not knowing how to turn off the cars they are driving. Despite Toyota's verifiable problems, the inability to properly use a button for turning cars off is a contrived issue.
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Old 02-24-2010, 02:19 PM   #13
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You cannot engineer for ignorance. You cannot make moron proof cars. At some level the person driving it has to take responsibility for being behind the wheel. They need to know what to do if and when certain things happen.

All building an idiot proof car will do is make drivers even worse. The more you remove from the decision making process, the more lazy people will become. It is time to end this crap... build an idiot proof car, and society will give you bigger idiots...

Make people responsible for their actions...
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Old 02-24-2010, 02:27 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SCRAPPYDO View Post
You cannot engineer for ignorance. You cannot make moron proof cars. At some level the person driving it has to take responsibility for being behind the wheel. They need to know what to do if and when certain things happen.

All building an idiot proof car will do is make drivers even worse. The more you remove from the decision making process, the more lazy people will become. It is time to end this crap... build an idiot proof car, and society will give you bigger idiots...

Make people responsible for their actions...
This all sounds good in theory. Unfortunately the consequences may not be limited to the morons driving the car. It could potentially affect others on the road.
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Old 02-24-2010, 02:30 PM   #15
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"Make something idiot proof, and only an idiot will use it." - an old axiom.

there still has to be some sort of switch for turning the car's electrical system on and off, or to accessory power state.

Some push button starters will act as an engine kill if you press them three times in rapid succession, or some such thing.

Maybe they need motorcycle engine kill switches, or something... I dunno. But you can't fix stupid, especially not with electronic devices.

If you drive a car, you are responsible for knowing how to operate it, even in an emergency situation.

If you build a car, you are responsible for operational safety, and fail-safe design.

Excusing operational ignorance, or laziness by coddling drivers to the point where they are complacent is not the answer, and never has been.

It doesn't matter whether there is an engine button, or a key switch, or a fixed switch, or a touch-sensitive panel surface, or whatever.
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Old 02-24-2010, 02:35 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sub9lulu View Post
toyota (prius) ignores it when u put it in neutral
then that is a design problem and Toyota deserves the witch hunt they are in the midst of.

However, like Scrappy and a few others are saying, a key, a button, an ejection seat, 11ty billion airbags won't solve stupid drivers.
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Old 02-24-2010, 02:38 PM   #17
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dumb people will always be dumb...

Maybe a kill switch like on motorcycles wouldnt be that bad of an idea after all.... I certainly wouldnt mind one. In fact, id prefer it over some electronic computer overriding my inputs to throttle and brake.
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Old 02-24-2010, 02:38 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by banyan View Post
This all sounds good in theory. Unfortunately the consequences may not be limited to the morons driving the car. It could potentially affect others on the road.
NO it sounds good in fact. If an idiot has a car failure and is not smart enough to know how to get out of it and it kills somebody, then I think they are just as liable as the car manufacturer. If people knew there were consequences to being stupid, then perhaps they would start making an effort to learn something.

In this case, placing the entire blame on the manufacturer is moronic as well as misplaced.
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Old 02-24-2010, 02:56 PM   #19
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It is just as idiotic to argue against a consistent method for turning off the engine as it is to not know how to put a car into neutral. Making things needlessly complex is not a sign of good engineering.
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Old 02-24-2010, 03:07 PM   #20
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Pushing a button is now too complex for drivers. Nice.
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Old 02-24-2010, 03:22 PM   #21
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Scrappy, Toyota isn't getting "fried alive today in a congressional hearing" because owners were negligent. Toyota tried to cover up the safety issues and then were reluctant to respond once the issues were known. Toyota wouldn't be in this mess had they done the right thing the first time.

I'm all for an industry mandated kill switch. A red switch mounted on the dash to the left of the steering wheel on every car made that would kill the engine without locking the steering. It would cost very little to implement and even be useful for police officers and fire fighters responding to accidents.

Quote:
Originally Posted by samagon View Post
Whether there is a push-button or a key it doesn't matter, the first thing you should do is slide the gear selector into neutral and slow down, if you shut the car off you have no power brakes, and no power steering (and if you turn the key too far your steering wheel locks), this makes any car designed to use these features hard, even impossible to control.
I don't buy that people need the engine running in order to safely stop a car. If you're willing to kill the engine, you're ready to stop. You don't need to apply the brakes multiple times or pull into a parking spot.. you need to stop. An engine at wide open throttle and bouncing off the rev limiter doesn't provide any vacuum for the brakes anyway.
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Old 02-24-2010, 03:25 PM   #22
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Ah, the unintended consequences of protecting all the kids who insists on sticking their finger in the light socket or drink the crap under the sink, they grow up and become really dumb adults.
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Old 02-24-2010, 03:26 PM   #23
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At this rate, buses and trains will soon be taking over.
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Old 02-24-2010, 03:30 PM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Iegav05 View Post
Pushing a button is now too complex for drivers. Nice.
Lets say we present you with two cars.. both use the same button but each has their own functionality. Both buttons work by turning the car on and off with a single press, but in order to turn the engine off while the car is in motion you'll need to hold down one car's button for 3 seconds or press the other car's button 3 times within 4 seconds.

Now we'll have it go WOT on you without warning and lock the transmission into drive. You're doing 70mph and accelerating with burnt out NAPA economy brake pads leaving smoke trails in your wake. You're dodging cars on the freeway and fighting with the transmission to get it to go into neutral. You decide to give up and kill the engine. Now.. what do you do?

You might be the kind of person who frantically jabs at the button to get it to stop.. which means there's a 50% chance you aren't getting the car stopped without running it into something. You might be the kind of person who forgets what 3 seconds feels like when you're hopped up on adrenaline and resumes pounding the button multiple times.

It takes 8 seconds of holding the power button on most ATX/BTX computers to get them to perform a hardware shutdown. It usually takes the average computer user several minutes to figure that out when they aren't under duress.


It's really easy to assume that everyone who's died as a result of the little details is a moron when you're the one still alive and breathing.
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Old 02-24-2010, 03:33 PM   #25
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I hear ya Beaverboy, and I do not totally disagree with you....but I will say that toyota is not alone in their defects, nor their lagging to fix the problem. I will say that I think this problem has been blown out of proportion.

If you add a kill button, then some people will say it is not easy enough to reach, you cannot make it simple enough to perform. People will always get more and more mentally lazy. Requiring people to be competent enough to drive the vehicle they buy is the ONLY solution to get out of these kinds of problems.

There is nothing on earth you can do to make a system easy enough to operate. Morons will find a way to blame somebody else for their stupidity.

Sure toyota had a faulty design. They should be accountable for it. Period. I will not argue with that. However, constantly trying to change the design to suit the lowest common denominator is only a recipe for more lawsuits, and even more ignorant drivers.
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