An open letter to Saab regarding safety



I’ve no doubt that by now, some at Saab have heard about the tragic accident in Scotland recently, where a three year old boy managed to start his parent’s car and accidentally caused the car to back over his younger brother, killing him.

This was nothing more than a tragic accident that has left a family distraught, and I’m sure it’s had the same effect on anyone who’s read about it.

Saab have always made what are amongst the safest vehicles on the road. They protect their occupants like few other brands. Yet no passive or active safety strategy employed by Saab might have been useful in this instance.

There is a way that Saab could help ensure that an accident like this never involves a Saab again, however.

In the US, Saabs are fitted with a switch that won’t allow a manual vehicle to be started without the clutch being depressed. If Saab could fit this device to all cars with a manual gearbox then they are most likely going to eliminate the chance of a set of circumstances such as those encountered in Scotland from leading to harm.

It’s in place in at least one market already. With Saab’s commitment to safety and the belief that this is most likely an inexpensive solution, why not install it for all markets?


If you believe this to be a responsible action to be taken by Saab, please add your thoughts in brief, in the comments section.




I’ve just received a note from Saab Sweden about this matter.

Saab have heard about the tragedy in Scotland and have indicated to me that they’ll be looking into the circumstances of the accident once the full facts are known. Obviously the police and the coroner will do their investigations and Saab will most likely seek information relevant to what happened with the car after they’re finished.

Once they know what really happened there, they’ll be in a better position to consider what, if anything, they might be able to do in light of the facts.

Whilst an interlock for Saabs fitted with an automatic transmission is normal worldwide practice, the interlock for cars with a manual gearbox is only standard practice in the United States, where it is required by law. Saab haven’t fitted a manual gearbox interlock in non-US markets as customers in those markets aren’t accustomed to it and it may be a barrier for some.

My quick thought: hopefully that will change.

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  1. Come to think of it – the mechanism for doing this (in 9-5s at least), are already there or will only cost pennies.

    The pedal switch depress sensor for the clutch pedal is pre-installed on most 9-5s (for use with crusie control system).

    The only investment will be to update teh T7 software so that it will only start the car when the pedal is depressed.

    The US cars certainly do this already, maybe the same code can be applied to 9-5s in other market?

    I wonder if there is such an option to turn this on/off even in UK cars – anyone wanna check their Tech 2?

  2. The clutch switch is already fitted for use on Cruise Control,as it tells T7 to cut cruise when the clutch is pressed.They only need to take this switches input and use it to control the Starter earth(all of this could be achieved with ECU programming,no extra bits required.
    Matt Gould
    SAAB Master Tech

  3. Thanks for the details, Matt and Ying. Although my description above is a little inaccurate, I’ll leave it as is. They’ll know what we’re on about, and if I change it then your informative comments will seem redundant.

  4. I am coming back from having road tested a manual Chevrolet Blazer 4.3 V6 MY98 recently and I was wondering why the darn thing did not want to start. I was told to depress the clutch and voila – the engine roared. This is a vehicle which was imported directly from the States and converted to RHD locally. The above comments seems to confirm that vehicles destined to the USA have this fitted as standard. Surely Saab could do this for all markets if the electronic wiring is part of the Saab DNA, I am happy to sign the letter.

  5. Being from Canada I thought that pressing the clutch was required on all manual transmissions already. This is a no-brain solution.

    It should be mandatory on all manual transmissions in the UK, not just Saab’s.

  6. Funny thing is that Hyundai has had this feature on some of their models for over 7 years. While reading that article it was the first thing that came to mind. I used to have a Hyundai and it was a very good safety procedure to include in the car.

  7. Wow I thought all cars had this switch. And don’t most autos these days have to have the brake on before you can turn the key? Kinda of the same idea behind the manual. But then again I guess an auto won’t roll in the first place.

  8. The Disable Ignition Safety Switch and the Park Neutral Safety Swith (for automatics) are required by U.S. law.

    There are 2 questions here: Why doesn’t UK law require it. More important for us, when Kias and Hyundais in the US have the switch, it is unpardonable for Saab to not have it in any market.

  9. I hope, and think Saab will make this standard soon. It’s a brilliant idea. Hopefully this will come before more lives are taken.

  10. It’s a tragic accident but somehow I cant help to think that the car manufacturers cant be responsible for -every- little thing that could possibly go wrong with a car. Children should never be left unattended around a car, especially not an unlocked car with the keys in the ignition. (or keys being in a place where children get get their hands on them) Let’s say that the car was parked in a slope and the 3 yearold had let the handbrake go. Would that also be the car manufacturers responibility/fault?

    Owning a car is a privilage that comes with many responsibilities…

  11. To be honest, I am shocked that a safety interlock is not required on manuel cars outside of the U.S. It’s a simple safety feature. Why not make it standard in all markets? I don’t think it’s that much of a hassle to push in the clutch before starting.

  12. Mats, of course you are right. We all realise that the ultimate responsibility for safety of a car lies with it’s user.

    On the other hand, a device of this trivial complexity have no reason to be left out by a manufactuer reknowned for their safety, this safety concept should incorportates both active and reactive safety features. A clutch switch falls into the active catergory,

    Using a somewhat far-fetched comparison, firearms are meant for those who knows how to use them properly (in an ideal world!), if a parent left his pistol lying around on the sofa and his 5 year old kid picks it up to play it, then the ultimate responsibility lies with the parent should an acident happen. However, this should not stop the gun makers put in a safety catch to prevent it from accidently set off.

    We are not blaming Saab for not inclduing clutch switch for all markets, we just think, and would like to suggest to them, it’s a simple implementation, and would be a good preventative measure in similar circumstance.

    Like I said, there were rare instances where i was absent minded when I started the car with the gear in reverse and clutch pedal up, this simple device can/ will prevent an accident from happening.

    It would also fall in with the safety culture of Saab.

  13. Here’s another point – most cars does not require you engage reverse or a gear before you can pull the key out.

    SAAB 9-5 does, and it’s a good safety feature – it prevents the car roll off if you park it on a slope and forgot to engage hand brake.

    But it also make the 9-5 a little bit more prone to gear engaged start than other models.

    Shoudn’t then, the switch to be added to make the safety feature complete?

  14. Kids are fascinated with keys and its amazing how fast they figure it out. Pushing down the clutch pedal certainly seperates drivers from nons. If the switch is already there, why not make the update tomorrow.

  15. Please add me to the list of those who feel that the already exisiting circuitry should be made complete in all of the Saab line

  16. I’m shocked to learn this is not standard on all cars manufactured, period. As mentioned by Crispy, it’s mandatory in Canada also. Good point about Saab by Ying. Saabs become even more vulnerable because of the reverse gear engagement mechanism.

  17. My son loves my Saab-vert. now 10 years of age, I find him more interested in how to drive. The car being and automatic and in the US has the necessary safety features. This provides me with a good amount of comfort. You should never leave keys in a car with children around. It’s just that simple. Kid’s will find a way to do what they want to to. Also, a good amount of parental warning CAN help.

  18. Mats is right. I’m amazed at what we put up with in the name of saving ourselves from unlikely peril.

    And, I think that this is required in Canada, too? Perhaps someone from there could weigh in on that?

    My 1988 C900 doesn’t have the switch, of course. The reverse lock out has been removed as well — it is a common, easy modification that eliminates a number of potential starting and shifting issues.

    So, how do I protect myself and others? I control access to the keys. I never leave my keys just laying around — they are always stowed in an area that is difficult for my children to access or they are in my pocket. It’s a little bit of an inconvenience, but my children simply can’t start the car at all.

  19. Eggsngtits makes a good point except it’s only valid in an ideal world, which of course is eluding us a little more every time a day goes by. In any case, with all the best intentions in the world, one can forget to be vigilant. There are a million reasons just waiting to catch us of our guard. The tons of medication people are taking is just one of them. I’m sorry, but man needs to be protected from himself. Unfortunately, more and more so. TBS, eggsngrits’ comment is still right on.
    BTW, I’m in Canada and we have been depressing clutches to start ours cars for ages. It has become second nature. Don’t see where there’s a problem there. Just like not being able to start an automatic in gear or having a kill switch attached to the driver of a jet ski or an outboard motor. Simple technologies that save lives. Just like Daytime Driving Lights. I can’t believe they are still not mandatory everywhere. They save lives as sure as the Arctic and Antarctic are melting faster than a kids pop left in the sun.

  20. It’s interesting that you say the interlock on a manual is US-only.

    My manual 9-5 here in Aus has to be put in reverse to get the key out – forcing you to put your foot on the clutch to start the car.

    As someone mentioned before, Hyundai have had a clutch interlock for years – owning one before my Saab put me in good practise for not accidentally backing into people when starting the 9-5!

  21. Wow, I guess we learn something new everyday. Maybe it’s my US-centric way of growing up, but I coulda’ sworn that pressing in the clutch to start a car and holding down the brake was a world wide thing. It’s not even second nature to me in either an auto or a manual. I just do it.

    Having said that, I went to my 98 LeSabre and mentally forced myself to start it without be on the brake… It does start but feels weird.

    Swade, I’ll gladly sign the letter.

    ~ R. L. Bixler III

  22. Guys

    I support having clutch-switch on Saabs that require reverse gear to remove the key.

    But aside from that, this is on one part not a Saab-centric problem and on the other hand still not a solution to the problem. It’s a perceived solution.

    There in fact a number of accidents just like this one every year, even in the US. Most commonly though, they happen when the kid frees the parking brake or unengages the gear lever – by accident or by play – while the car is on a ´n inclined parking.
    Most of these accidents are not fatal, but some are.

    There is something called “parent” and the responsibility we’re supposed to take. The tutoring we’re supposed to supply, i.e: Cars Big Hard Dangerous

    Anyway, as far as this question concerns Saab: do have a clutch-switch on reverse-gear-Saabs, but not on others until general legislation says so (as is the case in the US, but not EU)

  23. While not wanting to end up with the Twister-inspired routine that you go through to start a BMW 7 Series ( it has to be explained several times before you get it and woe-betide you if you forget it….. as you might if you only drive one of these when the moon is blue) I’m all for making more Passive Safety features in all cars. If a series of actions by a dedicated & trained driver is requried to start a car then that is a good thing.

    Study the field of Human Error and you’ll encounter the terms Passive Safety and also Hard Barriers. These are technical features that intervene without needing to be activated.

    Accidents like this are all the more sad for their tragic simplicity. So easily avoided.

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