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I am driving a 2017 Honda Ridgline with automatic transmission, cruise control, and lane keep assist engaged. Traveling at the legal speed of 70MPH (112KPH) suddenly I become unconscious.

If my hands and body don't alter the steering, the vehicle will continue down the road for sometime. I am not sure exactly how the vehicle will handle the loss of the driver.

In the old days you could, reach over and turn off the key. The vehicle would slow and stop. In new vehicles there is a push button. Powering down the vehicle in motion, may or may not work, and if it does you would probably lose the lane keep assist and automatic braking.

What is the safest course of action for a totally blind passenger, who is suddenly faced with stopping a vehicle from the passenger seat?

NOTE: In this vehicle the parking brake is in the drivers pedal area, the shifter is located in the center console, the steering wheel has lots of buttons (the buttons don't have braille)

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    You probably should not be posting this while driving 70MPH ;) – user27849 Jun 19 at 21:46
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    How would a blind person know you have become unconscious? – jlars62 Jun 19 at 21:55
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    @jlars62 change in breathing pattern, stop talking and don't answer, falling in their lap, There are several ways they can notice, but again they may not as indicated in my comment here – James Jenkins Jun 19 at 22:51
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    First thing should be Passenger confirms that Driver is not responsive - talking, shaking, touch, yelling very loud. As a driver I'd be concerned the blind passenger may simply grab the handbrake/steering etc without checking first. – Criggie Jun 20 at 1:18
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    @EJoshuaS If James Jenkins had become unconscious in such a situation, he probably wouldn't be around to post the question. This is a hypothetical, but not an unlikely nor an unexpected one. – wizzwizz4 Jun 20 at 16:14
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There are several good answers to the question. In the end each situation is unique, every person and vehicles combination creates different optimal solutions. There are 5 main points that can be customized for each situation. These come from considering the existing answers, research, experience and hands on experimentation with a blind passenger.

  1. Passenger familiarity with vehicle
  2. Passenger crash preparedness
  3. Slow the vehicle while maintaining safe travel
  4. Survive the accident
  5. Anticipate secondary impacts

Point 1: Passenger familiarity with vehicle

The time to get familiar with the vehicle is before the accident:

  • Does the vehicle have active anti crash devices?
    • If so how does it work?
    • Can it be enabled or disabled?
  • Does the vehicle have an automatic or manual transmission?
    • How will the vehicle react if the engine stops running while transmission is in gear?
    • Scenarios where shifting the transmission is good or bad.
  • Where is the parking/emergency brake?
    • Can the passenger activate the brake, while remaining seated and seat belted?
    • How to safely activate the brake?
    • if the brake is not available, how can the vehicle be slowed?
  • Emergency or 4 way flashers, how to activate?
  • Emergency services (police, ambulance)
    • Can the passenger voice command a phone via vehicles interface?
    • Can the passenger activate their phone, without increasing their risk?

Point 2: Passenger crash preparedness

When the blind passenger realizes they are in a moving vehicle with an unconscious driver, they must prepare for an immediate crash. Facing forward, seat belt fastened and snug, nothing between them and the air bags. A couple of answers talk about opening windows, trying to get other drivers attention, making phone calls. This is great if you can see, but if you are totally blind, you have no idea if the vehicle is going to sideswipe a telephone pole, or hit one head on in the next millisecond. Keep your hands and arms in the vehicle, and don't put any potential projectiles (like phones) between you and the air bags. If you have you phone in your hand when impact occurs chances are you are not going to be able to find it when everything stops moving.

Point 3: Slow the vehicle while maintaining safe travel

While staying prepared for an immediate impact, slow the vehicle. This varies significantly by vehicle.

  • "2017 Honda Ridgline with automatic transmission, cruise control, and lane keep assist engaged" (per OP); The brake is not accessible, with some familiarity the passenger can decrease the cruse control to 25MPH, The emergency flasher button is not tactile (i.e. smoothing integrated in dash) do not attempt to activate. There is a distinct sound when the vehicle speed falls below 25MPH, attempt to shift to park at this point. This keeps the more precise lane keep assist and active braking working as long as possible.

  • Generic, Hand brake activation: If available this is probably the best way to slow and stop the vehicle. Gently apply the brake to bring the vehicle to a stop, then apply the brake fully to keep the vehicle in place.

  • Generic, Manual transmission (no brake available, no anti crash devices): Turn off the ignition. Engine compression will work to slow the vehicle. In high gear, there will be less advantage, the vehicle will not stop as quickly as braking and may not stop completely.

  • Generic, Automatic transmission (no brake available, no anti crash devices): Keep the engine running, shift to a lower gear, hydraulic pressure should help slow the vehicle, when slowed consider shifting to reverse or park. There are many variables by vehicle in this scenario.

Point 4: Survive the accident

The blind passenger may or may not have any warning prior to impact. They should anticipate impact constantly. Keep yourself safe and prepared for impact at all times. You can best help the driver by keeping yourself safe until the vehicle has come to a complete stop. There is no point in trying to warn other drivers on the road, in all likelihood, they became aware of an issue before you did.

Point 5: Anticipate secondary impacts

They vehicle may not be fully disabled or stopped by the initial impact, it may continue to move with multiple impacts possible. The parking brake, park position (automatic) or engine compression (manual) may not be sufficient to hold the vehicle in place. Other vehicles may impact your vehicle even minutes after you have come to complete stop.

Lastly Regularly practice and re-familiarize yourself with your plan and locations of controls you will use, in which scenarios.

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In addition to other answers.

I would like to point that if your parking brake is not accessible by passenger, then you can brake either by switching to lower gear, or even to rear gear. Of course switching gear on high speed can damage transmission, but in life/death situations its small price.

I think nobody thinks about switching to rear gear because unconsciously you think that it is a "bad thing", but in reality all that happens is your engine shut down and you are "braking" by your engine.

This happened to me once, when I was driving down hill at about 30mph and instead of switching to neutral I accidentally pressed button and switched to rear. Nothing disastrous happened, just as I said engine shut down and car slowed down as if I moderately pressed brake.

  • That isn't what would happen in a manual transmission -- tho' I strongly doubt it's possible to force the gearbox into reverse at highway speeds, as there are lockout mechanisms. – Carl Witthoft Jun 21 at 15:47
  • I have a manual transmission ('97 Jeep Wrangler), and it will NOT enter any gear unless the speeds are already matched. Usually, this is done by disengaging the clutch (on the far side from the passenger) and pushing it towards the desired gear. As it gets close, it makes friction contact first, which actually does the speed-matching, and then a pointed spline does the final alignment. There's no way that that mechanism could work with the engine still connected, unless it just happened to match already. It's also near-impossible to pull it out of gear if there's still a load on it. – AaronD Jun 22 at 3:26
  • I overhauled it last year, so I could see that mechanism directly. Reverse is extra special in that (A) there's no friction contact, so you're literally just jamming gears together (good luck with that at speed), and (B) the control mechanism is designed intentionally to jam if you try to go there from the wrong gear, thus preventing the most common way to find reverse at highway speeds. Selecting another gear un-jams it. – AaronD Jun 22 at 3:27
  • it is possible to force some gearboxes into reverse at highway speeds, immediate uncontrollable skid of the drive wheels. the whole family died, – Jasen Jun 22 at 9:01
  • Sorry but I don't believe your last paragraph, not for a second. There is absolutely no possible physical way for you to shift into reverse at 30mph (and release the clutch) without causing catastrophic damage to the gearbox and, most likely, the engine as well. The car's behaviour would also be nothing like you describe. The drive wheels would immediately lock up as the driveshaft(s) get caught in the mess of broken gears inside the gearbox. It is also almost guaranteed that you'd tear a giant gash in the carter and leave torn pieces of gears and gearbox oil all over the road. – Demonblack Jun 27 at 1:29
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My wife is not blind, but I have run this identical scenario with her in case I have a heart attack or stroke or something.

Step 1: Put the car into neutral. Since the engine is still running, brakes and electronics will still work. Both our cars have typical automatic gear shifts and will go into neutral by simply pushing it forward out of drive.

Step 2: Activate emergency brake. Both our cars have mechanical handbrakes which are able to be activated from the center console. Some cars have e-brakes which are to the other side of the driver and cannot be reached by a passenger.

Step 3: Activate hazard flashers. Both of our cars hazard flasher switches are on the dash, and are reachable by the passenger, but our older truck had the switch on top of the steering column.

Step 4: Call 911 and hope for the best.

All of these should be possible in the majority of vehicles for most people who are legally blind, as long as they know where the controls are located. On the Ridgeline both the hazard and the gearshift are in those locations, I am not sure where the e-brake is located, most likely the driver footwell left side, so the passenger would not have access.

I am unsure if drivers safety aids will still function in N, but that is easy to test yourself.

It would not be safe to attempt to put the car into park at high speed. Most likely the transmission would ignore that attempt for safety reasons, but if it did lock the park pawl it could cause an uncontrolled spin of the vehicle.

Edit to address comments on e-brake

Most cars on the road have an emergency brake that connects a cable to a drum brake on the rear axle, and some have an electronic "park brake" that is not an emergency brake.

For cars with a typical "hand brake" type emergency brake, these apply increasing brake force the harder they are pulled. A locking ratchet will keep the brake at that position until it is released. In my car, 1 click on the ratchet will not actually apply the brakes due to the free travel of the cable and mechanism, but it will turn on the brake lights. This is important because drivers behind you will have a visual cue as to your intentions before they can see the car is slowing down. Additional clicks on the ratchet provide increasing levels of brake force to the rear axle only, and allow safe and stable deceleration once you reach the correct click.

One of the reasons why hazard flashers is the 3rd step after neutral and brake, it that it is much faster to blindly slow the car down than it is to find the hazard flasher, a small button which may be flush with the dash. The time it takes to find the button, then slow down the car, may allow over 1000 feet of additional travel, potentially towards stopped or cross traffic.

For cars with electronic park brakes, some of them may work in an emergency. I think I tried that on a Mazda SUV, and it provided adequate brake force to slow the car down in a safe and stable manner. However not all cars may respond this way, you should be aware of how yours does ideally during a safe test drive at a dealer.

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    Step 3 should be the very first thing you do. At very least before you break, as you want to warn traffic behind you that something odd is going on. – JAD Jun 19 at 9:09
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    Using the handbrake while travelling at 70MPH seems like a very bad idea – Rob Jun 19 at 11:33
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    @Rob the center console hand brake is simply a mechanical activation of the rear brakes. The only difference between it and the brake pedal is that is does not activate the front brakes, nor does it give hydraulic/power advantage. As long as the brake is applied with gradual pressure there is no significant risk. It exists not only for parking but also as an emergency backup in case of hydraulic brake failure. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parking_brake – James Jenkins Jun 19 at 13:43
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    Both our cars have standard gear shifts... how the times have changed. – J... Jun 19 at 13:55
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    @R.. Locking the brakes means that the tires have the kinetic coefficient of friction, which is lower than the static coefficient of friction that rolling tires have. – Acccumulation Jun 19 at 22:06
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In addition to the other fine answers here, I wanted to point out another potentially valuable tool that you might have available.

My vehicle (a GM) is equipped with OnStar, and one of the available functions it provides is the ability to remotely slow down the vehicle. The intended use case is to end high-speed pursuits of stolen vehicles. OnStar typically has an activation button on the rear-view mirror that connects you to an operator over the vehicle's speakers. A blind passenger (or child, or anyone else really) could easily hit that button and ask the operator for help. At a minimum the operator could track the vehicle's location, give you an idea of what was ahead, and summon police and an ambulance, and at best they could disable cruise control and bring the vehicle down to a more reasonable speed. It would probably help if you let OnStar know in advance that you have a blind family member that could need more assistance than the average user.

I'm not too familiar with Honda's vehicles, but most brands have something similar. Hopefully it's accessible via an easy-to-reach button, and not buried in an on-screen menu somewhere.

  • the ability to remotely slow down the vehicle, that sounds like asking for electronic hijacking. Back Orifice but for cars. – gerrit Jun 21 at 13:16
  • @gerrit Careful before you start a flame war. Remote control of vehicles has already happened - OnStar, or Tesla cars (I can even stop mine from my cellphone), or several Euro brands can do this. Encryption and message verification is a major part of system design. – Carl Witthoft Jun 21 at 15:46
  • @CarlWitthoft I know. And it sounds pretty scary. Software has bugs, some software recently led to two major airlines crashing. – gerrit Jun 21 at 21:03
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@Richie Frame has the best answer so far. I will indicate where I have borrowed from his answer.

First, this is not a scenario that a sighted person normally thinks about. And I don't like telling an adult what (s)he "ought to do". But a blind person needs to think through a lot of what do I do if.... scenarios, including this one. There are three controls that a blind person needs to learn the location of in whatever car he is riding in -- and the driver should "rehearse" the scenario with his blind passenger, as Ritche has done with his sighted wife.

  • Gear Shift (per Richie)
  • Button for Hazard Lights
  • How to open the window on the passenger side

I just came back from experimenting with my car (Volvo), and these controls are easily accessed from the passenger seat, and are characteristic enough so that a blind passenger, with a bit of practice, will not make a mistake. Ritchie is right that it would be easy to shift into neutral from drive, even for a blind person. Ritchie also advocated setting the emergency brake; in my car, this cannot be done from the passenger side.

Ritchie advises putting the car into neutral first. Having been totaled by a driver rear-ending me two weeks ago at a stoplight, I would put the hazard lights on first.

You definitely want to signal to other cars, especially a police car, that you have a problem. And you want to be able to yell a warning to other drivers, hence you need an open window. Ritchie's wife could dial 911, but this may not be possible for the blind passenger, and he may have to yell at another driver to call the police.

A police car can escort your car and isolate your car from traffic, meanwhile coaching your passenger if he has panicked.

In the earlier version of my answer, I suggested that the passenger may be able to lift the driver's foot off the accelerator. If he has put the car into neutral, this is unnecessary. However, I think a strong passenger could do this even while belted. I could easily reach the driver's knee and lower leg, although not his foot.

As for the comment that you should not drive if you have a condition that may cause unconsciousness, fine, if you know it. But heart attacks and strokes can happen with no prior warning.

Addendum in response to comment from the OP: The OP said, in a comment below:

Putting the vehicle in neutral may not be a good idea, I tried today. I happened to be going down hill when I shifted in to neutral, the cruise control and 'automatic distance keeping' disengaged, my vehicle started going faster and I came within a few feet of the car ahead, before ending the test and applying the brake. Also consider that if the vehicle comes to a stop in neutral, while going up hill (likely) it is going to start rolling backwards. If you can't apply the parking brake, neutral may be more dangerous.

This comment applies not only to my answer, but to at least one other answer. I feel out of my depth.

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    I put this comment under Richies answer but it seems to got lost "Putting the vehicle in neutral may not be a good idea, I tried today. I happened to be going down hill when I shifted in to neutral, the cruise control and 'automatic distance keeping' disengaged, my vehicle started going faster and I came within a few feet of the car ahead, before ending the test and applying the brake." Also consider that if the vehicle comes to a stop in neutral, while going up hill (likely) it is going to start rolling backwards. If you can't apply the parking brake, neutral may be more dangerous. – James Jenkins Jun 20 at 14:59
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    @James Jenkins This is turning out to be more complicated than perhaps anyone thought, because of (a) the issue of how the passenger knows the driver has lost consciousness; (b) the problem with shifting into neutral you just raised; and (c) the issue of cross streets, stop signs, stop lights has not been mentioned at all in your scenario of the car automatically keeping to its lane while slowing down. – ab2 Jun 20 at 16:09
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    Once the vehicle comes to a stop while in neutral (you can generally feel that point when forward motion stops), you can put it in park to make it less likely to roll downhill. This would be particularly helpful when you can't reach the e-brake. While you're still rolling forwards, it's probably a good idea to make liberal use of the horn as well. – bta Jun 20 at 21:36
  • @bta How does a blind passenger differentiate coasting virtually acceleration-free from having stopped? – Cpt Reynolds Jun 25 at 10:13
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    @CptReynolds I've never been in a car that had such a smooth ride that you could get those two confused. If you're traveling forward, there will always be some hint of road noise, vibration from the tires, vertical movement, etc. Crack the window a bit and it becomes extremely obvious. – bta Jun 25 at 17:44
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Honda's with Lane Keep Assist Systems also have systems called road departure prevention. Which after LKAS has turned off will attempt to keep you in the lane as you leave it, and depending on how fast you are leaving the lane will brake the car as well.

Source: I worked for a supplier of driver assistance systems for Honda.

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    This is a good answer, it is the foundation of our current passive solution. Depending on the scenario the passenger may not be aware of a driver issue until after the impending crash. My belief is that the Honda will do it's best to prevent accidents and slow the vehicle to 25MPH at which time it will give up and allow the crash to occur. A 25MPH crash is much preferred to a 70MPH crash. – James Jenkins Jun 19 at 14:20

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