March 10, 2010 / 2:31 AM / 9 years ago

Factbox: How do you slow down a runaway car?

(Reuters) - The case of a Toyota Prius that sped out of control on a California freeway near San Diego for 30 miles renewed attention on Toyota’s recalls for sudden, unintended acceleration.

A state trooper pulled alongside the car to help the motorist stop. But safety experts and automobile manufacturers say drivers can take the following steps to safely slow a vehicle down if the engine abruptly speeds up by itself:

— Try applying strong, steady pressure to the foot brakes (do not pump the brakes), and engage the car’s emergency brake, simultaneously if necessary.

— Put the gear shift into neutral, if possible, to disengage the engine from its transmission and the rest of the power train without losing power steering or power brakes. Finding neutral at highway speed can be difficult on some models, such as the Toyota Prius, if the driver does not already know where the neutral position is located.

Consumer Reports magazine advises on its online “Cars Blog” that the Prius requires holding the shifter lever long enough to engage neutral.

— Drivers can use the push-button ignition, if the vehicle comes equipped that option, to shut off power to the engine. This also will result in a loss of power steering and power brakes, making it harder, though not impossible to steer and slow the car.

Push-button ignitions work differently from one manufacturer to another. On the Toyota Prius, for example, the button must be held in for at least 3 seconds. The Prius and some Lexus models have this option.

— Drivers without a push-button option can try shutting down the engine by turning the ignition key to the off position. But again, they should realize that this will cut off the power steering and power brakes as well.

Steve Mazor, manager of the Automotive Research Center for the Automobile Club of Southern California, warns drivers to be careful to turn the ignition just one click, rather than all the way to the off position, to avoid the risk of locking their steering columns. Some cars are designed not to lock the steering column unless the key is removed from the ignition.

Mazor said the best rule of thumb is: “before you get into any car, you need to know how to put it into neutral.”

— As a last resort, drivers of a runaway car can try calling emergency-911 for assistance, but Mazor warns that anything that forces someone to take their eyes off the road at high speed is risky.

Editing by Mary Milliken

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