Don’t oversell tech or people might get trapped in their car and almost die

Last year, an older couple got trapped in their new car in their own garage. It was a car with a remote keyless system that automatically locked once they got in. But they’d left the smart key outside. It’s a brand new modern car, with this fancy wireless computer system controlling everything from the ignition to the locking to the windows. The salesperson had gone on and on about how secure and convenient this new technology was – how their car was basically non-functional without the smart key. They controlled their car through the smart key. Without it, they couldn’t unlock the doors. The solution to their problem had to involve getting that key, getting someone to get the key.

They couldn’t break the windows or attract anyone’s attention with the horn and eventually they’d used up most of the air. It’s a nice, modern, airtight design. The woman lost consciousness and they were both close to death when neighbours rescued them.

This is the interior of a 2014 Mazda 3.

Interior shot of 2014 Mazda 3 with shot of door. Clearly shows door handle and manual lock.

Interior of 2014 Mazda 3

You’ll notice that it has a perfectly normal manual door handle and lock. All they needed to do to get out of the car was manually unlock and open the door.

And they almost died. They tried to get out for 13 hours. AND THEY ALMOST DIED.

This story is being passed off as hilarious, the people, dumb and feeble-minded with age. And ok, it’s definitely no shining example of brilliance. But I think this sort of thing could happen to many people. When you get used to doing something one way, it becomes very, very difficult to see alternatives, especially if you’re tired and stressed, as these people were. Compounding the situation was the fact that they didn’t understand the technology and its limits. That’s something true of basically all of us in some situations.

And yeah, maybe being older made this situation more likely, but they weren’t failing at using a new technology. They were failing at using a very old technology – manual door locks. The problem was that they had seen so many things change so much (and had been told things had changed so much) that they didn’t expect even car doors to work the same way anymore. If we have the good fortune to get old, we may very well be bewildered by technological change, too.

We should be encouraging good UI and basic understanding of the tech around us and punishing dishonest marketers. Also maybe popping in to visit our neighbors more. It is so easy to be stupid. It would be great if it didn’t kill us.