General Question

Pandora's avatar

Would it be possible to make trucks with a kill switch to prevent them from being used for murder?

Asked by Pandora (28024points) November 2nd, 2017

What would be the possible problems? I figure if we can make airbags deploy from a hit to the vehicle, why couldn’t we make engines freeze. Not permanent. You have to physically enter a four digit number in the engine to get it running again. The actual kill switch is somewhere deep in the engine where only a mechanic can reach.
What would be the flaws with such an idea?

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22 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

1. Who gets to activate it? Police aren’t usually around until after the act.

2. What will prevent it from being used maliciously? An engine that gets frozen will lose all control, but it does not lose momentum. What will stop someone from triggering it on a truck going by at 60 mph?

CWOTUS's avatar

Throughout the past century or so as more and more automation has been possible – which has then been misused by vandals and “jokers”, with sometimes more and sometimes less malicious ends in mind – there have also been well-meant suggestions (such as yours) to offset or prevent that.

For example, and this is a device you can easily find on the internet from time to time, to prevent false alarms for fire and police when streetside call boxes were first introduced, there was an actual idea to add an “automatic handcuff” device that would temporarily entrap the caller. So, for example, when you pull the handle to set off a fire alarm, a device is triggered to handcuff you to the call box until the fire department arrives to put out the fire (if there is one) or the police arrive to arrest you for pulling the false alarm.

Sounds great. Who’s going to pull an “actual” fire alarm after that, knowing that they’re at the mercy of not only the fire – assuming there is one – but every passing hoodlum, mugger or drunk who wants to bother you (or rob, or worse) while you’re incapacitated for doing a good deed!

Now, it may be that when trucks are automated – and have no human drivers at all – that some of these problems (with trucks being used as murder weapons, anyway) – can be stopped. But we would also lose something, I think. That is, we would lose the ability for a truck driver to drive into a flooding river, for a hypothetical example, if it were determined on the spot that sacrificing the truck in this highly unexpected and unusual way, might save one or more lives. No automatic truck navigation system would permit such a thing; it’s not in the programming.

As @zenvelo notes, when you decide to program automaticity then you need to be more and more careful – and imaginative! – about how the thing will play out over a lifetime of use.

elbanditoroso's avatar

How? How would the mechanism know what is murder versus what is a (normal) traffic accident?

Or the truck needing to push a disabled car off of a train track – would that be prevented?

I think the problem with this idea is that intention (reasoning) is an inherently human characteristic, and when dealing with complex machinery, like a vehicle, the human factor has to be considered.

MrGrimm888's avatar

Yes. It would be possible. Effective at stopping a terrorist attack? Probably not. Incidents, such as the one in Manhattan, are usually very brief. Lots of destruction can happen quickly, in a “soft target” scenario.

I’m also thinking that it is likely that someone would hack such a device, and use it for malicious means.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Some cars had these at one time. I had a ford escort from the 1980’s as my first car around 1994. It had an impact/inertia triggered switch that would shut off the fuel pump. I had a friend who knew how to set it off somewhow and would prank me with it. Took me a while to figure out what it was (and who the joker was)

Zaku's avatar

I think the general approach of trying to control everything to prevent bad things from happening is liable to cause many problems and solve very few.

There are many practical problems with the idea, and discussing them seems a bit fruitless, but I am curious how you even think it would be possible to automatically detect & decide a situation was such that the engine should be shut off?

kritiper's avatar

It might be possible but not at all practical. Other posters here have already said anything else I could add.

ragingloli's avatar

It could only reduce the extent of the damage.
For example, the Scania™ lorry that was used to mow down a crowd in Berlin in December, had an automatic braking system that kicked in after the first collision.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Such a device exists already. It is sold as original equipment and in aftermarket.
Lojack makes one that can be added.
GM has an immobilizer function that can be turned on by the OnStar system.
Both will allow the vehicle to run for a short while so the driver does not immediately lose power steering and brakes..

Some of the “Kredit King” type car loan dealers (Bad Credit? No Credit? No Problem!) sell cars equipped with immobilizers. If you don’t pay, your car will not start and will send a signal to the towing company.

LuckyGuy's avatar

You can see remote kill switches in action at any Monster Truck show. Before the trucks “perform” they do a test of the kill system. Watch closely. The truck will rev up, start to move and then shut down as if it stalled. It will restart in a second and then go on with the show.

They do not want one of those monsters breaking loose and running up into the stands.

Jeruba's avatar

Probably. But…

Just about anything that exists to be used can be misused, and a hundred thousand innocuous items can be used to do harm. Even if we could conceivably anticipate all the possibilities for harmful use of any given thing, which we can’t (because determined minds can always invent more workarounds than there are safety features), who would choose to pay extra for the murder-prevention model? the person who will never use it to kill with—or the person who intends to kill with it?

And what shall we do with everything else that might be used to hurt someone? Do we need protections built into baseball bats? How about hammers, pillows, cans of baked beans?

It makes more sense to me to try to enlighten minds away from hatred and division than to modify all devices to thwart evil intent.

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

Like the ones in bait cars? Sure.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Here is an old article about GM cars offering it in 2009 and 2010.

GM adds remote kill switch to Onstar vehicles

Zaku's avatar

@LuckyGuy Onstar kill switches don’t stop vehicular attacks in progress. They just prevent the car being started when the bank wants to repo your car, or someone reports it stolen, or they can limit the speed if police coordinate with them and see the car and determine it’s safe to do so.

kritiper's avatar

Some kinds of kill switches are tied to the operator so that when they fall off or out of the vehicle, the engine dies.

stanleybmanly's avatar

I keep reading this question over and over, thinking there’s something I must be missing. But that isn’t it. This question boils down to “is it possible to equip trucks with a device capable of reading minds.”? My guess is no.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Zaku Someone has to order Onstar to stop the car. That does take a few minutes.

I suppose inductive loops can be placed on sidewalks that will automatically command the system to stop. But, the perps will just use an older car.
Soon most new cars will come with radar braking and pedestrian avoidance. It will take a long toime to get old cars off the road. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Zaku's avatar

@LuckyGuy Not everyone has that will (fortunately, I would say). I don’t think I’ll even have the will to drive at all if all the robot-control, police-control, insurance-control, bank-control, track-your-every-movement crap is the only way of the future. And, even if there is still control-freak-human-society and there are no human controllable cars 300 years from now (and no human-controllable hoverboards etc), if there are still humans who are allowed to take action, and humans overall are still as bad at detecting and treating trauma, abuse and mental illness as they are now, so people are still full of repressed rage and feelings of powerlessness (probably not helped by fearful people trying to prevent anyone from piloting anything), they’ll still find ways to kill each other.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Zaku Yep. i heard that the “radicalized” suspect “spent weeks plotting”.
Really? How long did it take to figure out that approach? 30 seconds? They guy was definitely not a rocket scientist.

Pandora's avatar

@LuckyGuy I thought the same thing.

Thank you all for your comments. I should’ve been clearer. You don’t want a car to sense danger and suddenly put you in danger by dying, but I figured it could be triggered by actually hitting someone. So yes there will still be a death, but the car will be unable to continue and kill dozens more. Not to mention, it certainly would lower the chances of someone being involved in a hit and run and the driver just drive away.
As for the kind of mechanism, I figure a sort of sensor in the vehicle bumper.

kritiper's avatar

@Pandora As a automotive technician, I can see all kinds of problems with that!

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