Smart Takes

GM's OnStar remote vehicle slowdown feature stops carjacking

GM's OnStar remote vehicle slowdown feature stops carjacking

Posting in Technology

GM's OnStar service, installed on many of the auto manufacturer's vehicles, offers GPS navigation, handsfree calling and remote diagnostics. But this past Sunday, it stopped an armed carjacker in his tracks.

GM's OnStar service, installed on many of the auto manufacturer's vehicles, offers GPS navigation, handsfree calling and remote diagnostics. But this past Sunday, it stopped an armed carjacker in his tracks.

A shotgun-wielding criminal carjacked a 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe early Sunday morning from its owner in Visalia, California. Normally, the story ends there, but the owner flagged down a police officer to report the incident, noting that the Tahoe had the OnStar Stolen Vehicle Slowdown service.

That service allows OnStar advisers to locate the vehicle. Once law enforcement neared the vehicle, OnStar initiated the slowdown service, slowing the Tahoe down to a stop. Obviously, the suspect hopped out and ran, but officers apprehended him before he could get away.

The whole process took 16 minutes.

GM launched the slowdown service in Oct. 2008, and until now had only activated it 38 times, for reasons as varied as dealer theft, rental vehicles and stationary vehicles as a preventative measure. This is the first time that SVS has been activated to help a subscriber in a carjacking situation, GM said.

“It helped us not only safely recover a vehicle for a local citizen, but also prevented a dangerous high-speed chase and allowed us to quickly apprehend a suspect," Visalia police department sergeant Steven Phillips said in a statement. "It's a win for everyone.”

Here's how it works: Once OnStar sends a signal to the vehicle’s engine, it begins reducing engine power and gradually slows the vehicle to idle speed. All other vehicle systems, including power steering and brakes, remain fully operational.

The OnStar service is optional and costs a subscription, of course. But it's an interesting real-world application of a technology that may play a big part in how we interact with our vehicles in the future.

Here's the Tahoe's owner, Jose Ruiz, explaining what happened:

Share this

Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure