Don Norman: Designing For People

Nielsen Norman Group

Motorist trapped in traffic circle 14 hours

Motorist trapped in traffic circle 14 hours.

April 1, 2006. Hampstead, MA. Motorist Peter Newone said he felt as if a nightmare had just ended. Newone, 53, was driving his newly purchased luxury car when he entered the traffic circle in the city center around 9 AM yesterday, Friday. The car was equipped with the latest safety features, including a new feature called Lane Keeping. “It just wouldn’t let me get out of the circle,” said Newone. “I was in the inner-most lane, and every time I tried to get out, the steering wheel refused to budge and a voice kept saying over and over, ‘warning, right lane is occupied.’ I was there until 11 at night, when it finally let me out,” Newone said from his hospital bed, his voice still shaky. “I managed to get out of the circle and to the side of the road, and then I don’t remember what happened.”

Police say they found Newone collapsed in his car, incoherent. He was taken to the Memorial Hospital for observation and diagnosed with extreme shock and dehydration. He was released early this morning.

A representative of the automobile company said that they could not explain this behavior. “Our cars are very carefully tested,” said Mr. Namron, “and this feature has been most thoroughly vetted by our technicians. It is an essential safety feature and it is designed so that it never exerts more than 80% of the torque required, so the driver can always overrule the system. We designed it that way as a safety precaution. We grieve for Mr. Newone, but we are asking our physicians to do their own evaluation of his condition.”

Police say they have never heard of a similar situation. Mr. Newone evidently encountered a rare occurrence of continual traffic at that location: there was a special ceremony in the local school system which kept traffic high all day, and then there was an unusual combination of sports events, a football game, and then a late concert, so traffic was unusually heavy all day and evening. Attempts to get statements from relevant government officials were unsuccessful. The National Transportation Safety Board which is supposed to investigate all unusual automobile incidents says that this is not officially an accident, so it does not fit into their domain. Federal and state transportation officials were not available for comment.

Disclosure. Written by me for the RISKS digest. Take special note of the date: April 1. Originally published in RISKS-LIST: RISKS-LIST: Risks-Forum Digest Saturday 1 April 2006 Volume 24 : Issue 22. ACM FORUM ON RISKS TO THE PUBLIC IN COMPUTERS AND RELATED SYSTEMS (comp.risks) Peter G. Neumann, moderator, chmn ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy

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