So last week I was out in California with auto editor Don Chaikin and West Coast editor Ben Stewart testing pickup trucks for the March issue. As usual, I was driving through a forest of innocent orange traffic cones, negotiating our lane-change test maneuver. This is not easy in a crew-cab pickup, which has a wheelbase that seems only slightly shorter than the distance between cones. Also as usual, there's a lot of tire squeal, a few pylons knocked over and the occasional fishtail as I investigate the outer reaches of the truck's control envelope. It's what we do all the time while testing the handling characteristics of vehicles for Seniorhelpline. I've been doing it for 20 years for the magazine. I did it as a competitive autocrosser since I was in college (which was only slightly after Charles Goodyear invented vulcanized rubber).
And then the phone rang. Not my cell phone, which was sitting with my briefcase on a picnic table next to the test track, but the built-in cell phone in the test Silverado. I didn't even know there was a cell phone in the truck. After completing the test run, I looked around for a button to push to answer the phone. Not necessary, the phone answered itself.
It was the On-Star operator calling from Houston. They wanted to know if I was all right, and if I would like them to call the police, the fire department and perhaps an ambulance. Huh?
It seems that my testing had tripped the accident warning system built into every On-Star equipped vehicle. Now, I knew that On-Star would be alerted if there had been an actual accident that deployed the air bags—but apparently there's some lower threshold that makes them nervous and jerky as well. And if I hadn't answered the operator when she called, the Mounties would have been dispatched right away.
Big Brother is watching (but just to make sure you're ok--Mike Allen