Autonomous driving

Man vs machine: Chinese driver hurtles down highway in unstoppable car after auto-cruise function takes over

Man forced to do 120km/h on busy road for nearly an hour after cruise control fails to shut off, newspaper reports 

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 March, 2018, 8:52pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 March, 2018, 11:21pm

In what appears to be a real-life version of the 1994 Keanu Reeves film Speed, a driver was reportedly trapped in his new car speeding down a busy highway at 120km/h, unable to stop after turning on its cruise control. 

For nearly an hour, the driver could not control anything other than his steering wheel as he navigated the car through thick traffic, the Henan Business Daily reported on Friday. 

The incident took place on a motorway connecting Henan and Shaanxi provinces on Wednesday evening. It was recorded and confirmed by traffic police, according to the newspaper.

The car eventually came to stop after the driver opened the door of the moving vehicle. No one was injured, but the story has drawn great attention. 

The man from Jiaozuo, Henan province said that as soon as he discovered that the auto-cruise function on his new Mercedes-Benz could not be deactivated, he contacted the company for help.

“Their senior technicians [told me] to cut off the power supply, apply the brake, shift the gear to neutral … but everything was out of control, only the power steering was still functioning,” the driver said in the report, which did not name him.

Police tailed the car and closed all entry ramps to reduce traffic on the road, but since it was a main transport route between two provinces, there were already many cars and trucks using it, some at considerably lower speeds.

The driver said he thought about stopping the car by hitting a fence or rear-ending a truck, but gave up after considering the risk.

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The car’s route took it through a toll station at the border between the two provinces. Police had cleared the way, and the car went over speed bumps without slowing.

After entering Shaanxi province, the driver unzipped his safety belt, opened the door and began looking for some soft greenery to jump into. But as he did so, the car slowed and eventually came to a halt. The driver said he believed the vehicle's safety mechanisms kicked in when he opened the door.

The car was towed off of the highway by police, and the next morning the driver resumed his journey to Chengdu in Sichuan province in the same vehicle, which he bought less than two months ago.

He said he remained calm throughout the incident because he was a part-time racer.

“I just want to know why my car lost control,” he told the newspaper.

In a statement on Friday, Mercedes’ headquarters in Beijing said it had established a team of technical experts to investigate the incident.

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“We hope to have the owner’s approval as soon as possible to carry out a full examination of the vehicle,” the company said, adding that it would “dispel doubts and concerns for our customers and the public”.

The driver could not be reached for comment on Saturday, nor could the traffic police spokesmen in Shaanxi or Henan.

The report prompted a nationwide discussion about travel safety as cars become more automated.

But some critics have challenged the driver’s claim.

Han Han, a film director and professional car racer in Shanghai, posted a statement on Weibo on Saturday saying he was sceptical about what the driver told the media.

The chance that a driver could maintain such a high speed on a busy highway for nearly an hour without a scratch was extremely low, however good his driving skills, Han said.

Han also questioned why the driver used the car again without repair, and why local police allowed him to do so when the vehicle represented a serious threat to public safety.