Earlier this week, the driver of a 2003 BMW X5 called 911 to inform the operator that he was speeding and wouldn’t be able to stop. The motorist, one Joseph Cooper, explained to the operator “my gas pedal is stuck” as his SUV barreled down a Florida interstate at around 100 miles an hour. Officers were dispatched to the highly mobile scene on Monday at 1:00 p.m. and ultimately decided to halt Cooper’s progress using stop sticks.
BMW is calling bullshit on his runaway vehicle claims, and we’re inclined to agree. There were loads of things the driver could have done to stop the vehicle but, based on portions of his call with 911, he was either unwilling or incapable of performing those tasks.
According to ABC News, a BMW spokesperson categorized the scenario as “implausible,” adding that the company “would be happy to work with the Florida State Police to investigate the cause of this incident.”
We wouldn’t be surprised if Cooper had simply placed the vehicle on cruise control and simply couldn’t figure out how to stop it. His call with emergency dispatch is beyond infuriating and brings into doubt his ability to function behind the wheel. Early in the call, which occurred around 12:46 in the afternoon, the operator suggest he place the car into neutral. Cooper responds with “Yeah but, Ma’am, I’m in a BMW and, if I swing that over, it’s going to drop down a gear. I really don’t want that to happen. It could spin me out.”
She then asks if he has tried the emergency brake. “Ma’am, I’m not pulling that at no hundred miles an hour,” he responded. “Ma’m, I’m sorry.”
While it’s unknown if Cooper even bothered to attempt using the foot brake, his emergency/parking brake could have at least slowed him down some. While yanking upward on the handbrake with all of his might probably would have been a bad idea, a more gradual application could have helped him bleed off some of that momentum. That’s especially true if he’d bothered to kill the engine — which seems like the most logical thing to do in a runaway scenario.
A lot of drivers don’t realize this, but there is a little nub or button near the steering wheel that can be used to turn off or, in some cases, start a vehicle’s engine. It’s called an ignition and is essential in the continued operation of a motor. I don’t want to get too technical here, but that motor is actually what provides forward locomotion in most instances. Without it, a vehicle will ultimately stop moving.
Alright, so we’ve established that Joseph Cooper is either an imbecile, in a perfect storm of technological mishaps, or is terrified that stopping the vehicle might damage his SUV. He’s also just confessed to almost hitting someone and still has to be stopped. What’s the safest manner in which this can be done?
According to Florida authorities, blowing out the vehicle’s tires as it travelled in excess of 95 mph was the clear solution. However, the police report actually states that Cooper swerved to avoid the first set of stop sticks. Fortunately, a second attempt took out his two right tires — slowing him to around 60 mph. A third attempt got the rest of them.
From there, Cooper’s X5 continued on until there was no rubber left. “The vehicle was traveling on all 4 rims with no tire,” the highway patrol report read.
Officers were eventually able to pit the BMW on the side of the road after it had traveled roughly 40 miles as a runaway vehicle. Lt. Alvaro Feola of the Florida Highway Patrol said Cooper made the right choices in a dangerous situation. “He did call 911, he wore a seat belt, he kept the dispatch aware of the mile markers,” Feola told ABC News.
In our estimation, that’s about all Cooper did that was right. The manufacturer also weighed in, carefully indicating this was likely a instance of extreme driver error and not a technical fault.
“All BMW vehicles, including the 2003 X5 described in this incident, employ an electronic accelerator pedal which uses software logic to override the accelerator whenever the brake pedal is pressed while driving. This fail-safe software means that if the vehicle detects that both pedals are depressed, the on-board electronics will reduce engine power so that the driver may stop safely.
Furthermore, the accelerator pedal in BMW vehicles is hinged at the bottom, and mounts to the floor. Therefore an object or floor mat cannot slide under the accelerator pedal and jam it. Original BMW floor mats are custom-fitted for each vehicle, and are installed with anchors to keep them properly located in the front footwells of each vehicle.
The vehicle could also have been stopped by two additional means: By placing the transmission in neutral and coasting to a stop and/or by shutting off the ignition without removing the key. This is accomplished by turning the key counterclockwise. The engine would have shut off and the driver could have safely coasted the vehicle to a stop.”
We know it’s hard to know how to respond calmly in an emergency situation, but that last line is universally applicable. If you find yourself in a runaway situation, please turn on your hazards and shut down your engine. We’re sure Mr. Cooper mistakenly assumed he’d do some kind of catastrophic damage to the motor by doing so. But, when the alternative is having your tires blown out until you’re moving slow enough for cops to gently nudge you off the road, he probably wishes he had opted for the former.