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GM OnStar and Police Chases

  1. Jan 13, 2009 #1
    Within the last six months, I heard about two local police chases, with one being right down the road from my residence just last night. I see reports that GM OnStar will permit the police to shut down vehicles with the installed system at will. Anyone know of the validity of this report?

    Also, how would such a system work if this was implemented? To me, this seems like a double-edged sword.

    The best solution I saw so far is for the police to fire an attachable GPS device to the fleeing car and back off to prevent civilian casualties and property damages.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 14, 2009 #2

    minger

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    Well sure, I'm not sure how intrusive the OnStar system is, but everything on a car now-a-days is controlled via computer. I've been told that there are quite a few used car dealerships (you know those 'No cash, no credit, no problem' type of places) that install a device on your car. If you fail to make a payment they send a signal to the car which prevents it from starting.
     
  4. Jan 14, 2009 #3

    stewartcs

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    Well you would need to post the link or source for the report to ascertain its validity. :wink:

    Anyway, I had OnStar on a car I owned previously. They remotely unlocked my car doors once for me so it is not unreasonable to believe they could kill the engine too.

    CS
     
  5. Jan 14, 2009 #4

    mgb_phys

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    OnStar reports the position of the car using it's GPS and the newer ones can also stop the car (on some models) by setting the cruise control to zero MPH.
    It is currently done manually by the OnStar operator only on orders from the police chasing the vehicle.
    http://www.onstar.com/us_english/jsp/plans/sva.jsp

    There are concerns about the capability - what if someone managed to fake the message and used it stop vehicles at random.
    What if they decided to suddenly stop a stolen car and it was hit by a semi?
     
  6. Jan 14, 2009 #5

    stewartcs

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    Really? I've never been able to set my cruise control below something like 20 mph without it cutting off? I wonder if that is a feature for limited use by them only.

    CS
     
  7. Jan 14, 2009 #6
    That's interesting way of doing business. I haven't heard that one.

    What would one have to do mimic the necessary signal? Is this easily feasible? If so, such an idea could be very dangerous. Is the signal digital or analog in nature? I can picture evil geniuses trying to crack the signals similar to cracking computer accounts.

    I think that I heard the same idea is being used to turn a car on. If true, could mean stolen cars galore!
     
  8. Jan 14, 2009 #7
    I used to work for Motorola who makes the OnStar system though not for the division that makes OnStar. They tell the story that once they were describing to the governor of Illinois (before Blagojevich) how if the OnStar operator received an indication that the car had been in an accident, they can call the car and even if nobody answers, they can listen to hear if anyone is alive.

    The governor responded "You mean they can listen to a conversation inside the car without anyone in the car knowing? That isn't a good thing, is it?"
     
  9. Jan 14, 2009 #8

    mgb_phys

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    That's how they describe it - it obviously ties into the engine management system in some way and simply turns off the fuel.

    The signal is the easy part, you just need a pager or GSM mobile phone signal. You can buy pager/GSM modems on a chip for remote data collection.
    The difficulty would be tying it into the immboliser/alarm system on different car models.
    There is also the liability concerns, what if you were rushing your wife to the hospital, or you stalled on a train track an couldn't restart?
    I suspect any used car dealer who would need something like this is more likely to adopt the 'send Vinny round with a pipe wrench' form of customer service.

    In theory they need a warrant,even if the car is stolen and the owner gives permission. However that hasn't stopped a lot of telcos recently.
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2009
  10. Jan 14, 2009 #9
  11. Jan 14, 2009 #10
    It's just a cell phone tied into the airbag or other sensors that indicate an accident. I hadn't heard about it being able to stop a car, start a car or prevent it from starting. I suppose it's possible but would involve more than just a cell phone. Cell phone signals are pretty difficult to crack.
     
  12. Jan 14, 2009 #11

    mgb_phys

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    It's trivial to get around anyway.
    You can pull the fuse to the OnStrar or a short range cell phone jammer is $100.
    Any car thief smart enough to get around the alarm/immobilise on a decent car is going to know this.
    The point is to make the buyer feel protected for a moderate monthly fee.
    Of course once people start getting speeding tickets based on the OnStar GPS or the car's position gets subpoenaed in divorce case it's popularity is going to drop.
     
  13. Jan 14, 2009 #12
    I have thought of a possible alternative solution, but don't understand the technology fully. Say we install a CCD-like chip unit somewhere on the vehicle. It is designed so that when a powerful enough signal imparts upon it, it shuts the vehicle down for a certain duration. This window of operation for power-shutoff would have to be beyond any possible background radiation effects and beyond the capabilities of civilians producing any homemade devices--however, the design must take into account foresight for the future of technology available to civilians (tough to do). The units used by the police to shutoff vehicles would have to be practical when compared to the costs of civilian casualties and property damages incurred yearly due to car chases.

    Whats good and whats bad about this idea?

    Another option, install GPS devices on all cars, so that police can track the fleeing car without the large risks.
     
  14. Jan 14, 2009 #13
    In order to access the OnStar system they would first have to identify the vehicle. Once they've done that and with the GPS system on the car, it seems pointless to me to give chase and endanger the lives of other motorists and pedestrians. Identifying the car would be the biggest problem and which usually means getting close enough to read the license plate.
     
  15. Jan 14, 2009 #14
    Interesting. If they have to get the license plate number to perform this operation, then that could be a problem. I would think that it could be possible to give each vehicle a unique ID and track it whenever via GPS. For a car chase, the police give the OnStar people coordinates of the fleeing vehicle, and then using some complicated search algorithm--looking for erratic driving, or correlating real-time data with other cars on the highway with an installed OnStar system--the OnStar people can determine the ID number of the fleeing vehicle.
     
  16. Jan 14, 2009 #15

    mgb_phys

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    In the UK most cars are stolen by 'joy riders' rather than for resale.
    The police have been accused of causing a lot of the problem by giving chase - the stolen cars deliberately look for police cars to start a chase, UK traffic police don't have guns so the drivers usually get away unharmed.
    There have been a few deaths where the stolen car was rammed or forced off the road by a police car killing the occupants or innocent by-standers. The police case wasn't helped by releasing their own in car videos which showed - shall we say - 'a certain combative attitude' by the police.

    A safe method of stopping the cars ,which unlike a tire stinger doesn't do any damage would be useful. However the OnStar or similar is going to be on high end cars that are stolen for sale/parts - the joy riders tend to steal small cheap hot hatchbacks because they are more available in inner cities and don't have complex alarm systems.
     
  17. Jan 14, 2009 #16
    The obvious solution would be for the factory to install a radar activated transponder that would transmit the VIN of the car. Think how easy that would make police work, even for non-speeding offenses like running a stop sign. He'd just point the radar gun at you and send you the ticket in the mail. (I'm not in favor of this.)
     
  18. Jan 14, 2009 #17
    This is where it starts. But, I wonder where it will lead. With terrorism issues and all, I can imagine that all cars will have similar systems installed decades from now. That's just Big Brother looking after our best interests, isn't it? :smile:
     
  19. Jan 14, 2009 #18

    mgb_phys

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    It's already done from the number plate, most radar guns and all the roadside systems have Automatic Numberplate Recognition (ANR).
    This is also used for average speed systems where they log your car every few miles along a road - this stops people slamming on the brakes when they see a camera and then speeding up. of course the data would never be used to correlate your location for any other reason - you trust the government don't you?
     
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