The fear of driving a car you can't stop that Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock played through in "Speed" came to life for a French man this week, who went on an unplanned 200-kilometer run in his Renault while unable to stop the car, at speeds hitting 200 km/h, through two countries. Only thanks to quick-thinking police and toll workers was he able to survive — and there's no clear explanation for what kept him stuck in the fast lane.
Frank Lecerf, 36, left home near Amiens, France, on Saturday to go to the grocery store, driving a Renault Legane 3 sedan adapted with hand controls for the throttle and brake due to Lecerf's disabilities from epilepsy. Shortly after hitting the main freeway, Lecerf told French media he set the car's cruise control to about 100 km/h -- and instead, it sped up to about 160. As he attempted to slow down, the car went faster, hitting 200 km/h.
From his car, Lecerf called police while dodging slower traffic. Authorities and a Renault technician were unable to find a way to stop the vehicle, and had to clear two toll booths and a crossing at the Belgian border in order for Lecerf to speed through. Finally, Lecerf was able to regain control of the Renault near Alveringem, Belgium, and parked the car in a ditch some 200 km from home, saying "I saw my life flash."
Lecerf told French media that he had sent the car to Renault twice before claiming problems with sudden acceleration, and had been told the sedan was checked out with nothing found wrong each time — which Lecerf's lawyer says will be grounds for a lawsuit against the carmaker.
The story sounds familiar to anyone who's ever examined the uproars over sudden acceleration cases in the United States, which include thousands of reports from Toyota, Audi and many other automakers. In scores of cases, the problem has been traced to mechanical faults, such as floor mats trapping the accelerator pedal to the floorboard, as was the case with Toyotas.
But automakers and safety officials typically consider driver error, especially confusion between the brake and accelerator pedals, the cause of such reports unless proven otherwise. Renault officials told The Independent that Lecerf may have panicked and locked the accelerator open; worries of similar incidents are the main reason all new U.S. models with engine start buttons require them to be labeled as "stop" buttons too, and U.S. regulators want to require systems that override the throttle if the brakes are on. Not everyone can be as lucky as Frank Lecerf.