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News: Stop That Car!

In June, a suspect in a stolen car led Tacoma, Wash., police on a dangerous high-speed chase through city streets and neighborhoods. By the time it was over, two officers had been hospitalized. One was injured when he was struck by the fleeing vehicle. The second was injured when he rammed his patrol car into the stolen car, ending the pursuit.

Scenes like these occur with disturbing regularity. That got the people at General Motor’s OnStar division thinking. By combining several of the in-car services it already provides to more than 5 million subscribers in the United States and Canada, OnStar developed an ingenious program that literally stops car thieves in their tracks.  The new service, considered the next phase of OnStar’s long-standing Stolen Vehicle Location Assistance Service, is called Stolen Vehicle Slowdown. This new service can disable a stolen vehicle, slowing it to less than 15 mph. “What we’ve taken out of [pursuits] is the sudden acceleration,” says OnStar Service Line Manager Catherine McCormick.

How Does It Work?

First, a vehicle is reported stolen to the local police. Then, either law enforcement, dispatch or the vehicle’s owner can contact OnStar to initiate the service. OnStar then locates the vehicle using global positioning satellite technology and relays that information to dispatchers, who send police units to the location. Unbeknownst to the suspect, an OnStar operator, called an advisor, will remotely activate the vehicle’s flashers, indicating to police they have the correct vehicle. When it’s safe, the officer instructs the OnStar advisor to start the slow down. Using the existing Vehicle Diagnostics technology, OnStar shuts off the fuel to the engine via the Powertrain Controller, gradually slowing the vehicle to idle speed. Once triggered, the accelerator pedal inputs are ignored. Turning off the vehicle or switching gears will not re-enable it. However, all other vehicle functions, such as steering and braking, remain enabled. And because only a service center can reactivate the vehicle, a suspect with a hostage can’t force law enforcement officials to enable the car or truck.

Test Drives

In anticipation of an October or November launch with selected 2009 models, OnStar representatives have been crisscrossing the country demonstrating the new service for cops and dispatchers. Following a lecture-style presentation, the officers and dispatchers are invited to take turns driving a Chevrolet Tahoe enabled with the Stolen Vehicle Slowdown service on a closed course. Once at freeway speeds, the vehicle is slowed using the new technology. (A video demonstration of Stolen Vehicle Slowdown is available at Those attending the Portland, Ore., demonstration were impressed and readily acknowledged the system works, but some were concerned that valuable time is lost by requiring the owner to complete a stolen vehicle report. OnStar representatives explained that to safeguard subscribers, OnStar representatives will only provide stolen vehicle locations to cops. They aren’t interested in being part of personal family issues or practical jokes, they said.

In a survey of current OnStar subscribers, GM learned 95 percent would order the service.


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