Sunday, June 13, 2010

Out of control? Turn it off.

What would you do if your vacuum cleaner motor started racing and the vacuum took off across the floor, smashing into the wall, bumping the floorboard over and over, and jumping up and down?

Anybody for calling 9-1-1?

Okay, I’m stretching the point just a little. Any normal person would march over to the electrical outlet and pull the plug.

So why is it that we keep hearing stories about people driving out-of-control cars calling 9-1-1? What did these people do before cell phones? Drive 140 mph until they ran out of gas?

This reminds me of one of my brothers learning to drive. I won’t name which one in order to spare Alan the grief from me telling this story.

My dad, one of my brothers, and I took the family car out into the desert on the outskirts of El Paso and my dad let my brother take the wheel. Mind you, we were off road, surrounded by sand dunes, jack rabbits, and buzzards.

My brother started the car, pressed the brake, put the transmission in drive and, similarly to the way drag racers respond to the light tree, stomped on the gas.

The rest of this story is a vague memory for me, having been only 5 or 6 at the time, and because my entire body was pressed into the back seat with such pressure that my silhouette was visible in the vinyl for a week.

I do remember that my dad calmly reached over and turned off the engine.

No calls to 9-1-1. No panicking. Just doing the obvious thing.

This morning, I watched a story about a Somerville woman’s 1998 Honda Civic racing up Route 3 in New Hampshire. With both feet on the brake pedal and two hands on the steering wheel, she managed to call 9-1-1.

Amazingly, the 9-1-1 dispatcher failed to give her the key “To-Do” before the woman opted to bail out. She released her seatbelt, opened her door, and jumped out.

Oh my.

The car careened into an overpass and was demolished.

She rolled to a complete stop.

Thank heavens she’s okay. Some scrapes and a chipped tooth, but otherwise fine.

Here’s my three-step guide to dealing with unintended acceleration in situations where my father isn’t in the car with you:

1) Press the brake.

2) Shift into neutral.

3) Turn the engine off.

I know that’s spectacularly complicated, but it’s as easy to remember as “stop, drop, and roll,” a process that the Somerville lady followed two-thirds of.


  1. People call 9-1-1 because McDonalds runs out of chicken nuggets so there should be no wonder as to why public safety is shorthanded. Now FD are mandated by Barnstable county to collect old needles, old medication, old gasoline, propane tanks,old flares, fireworks and the state mandates police and fire stations to collect unwanted babies. A dispatcher will soon be saying this, "Thank you for calling 9-1-1. This call may be recorded for quality assurance. We will resond to your emergency between the hours of 8:00 am and 5:00 pm in the order that they are received." Far fetched? Not really.

  2. Yep -- neutral is handy for more than just going through the automatic car wash!

  3. Hilarious! More posts from Texas, less politics! Let's hope you have another road trip down south soon -- we could all use more humor and a good belly laugh! Thanks, Randy!


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