by Meridith Levinson

Wireless Technology: GM OnStar Saves Lives

Apr 01, 20032 mins

On the morning of Nov. 1, 2002?the day she was promoted to CIO of GM Canada from director of customer experience?Joyce Sumara drove to a remote lake in Ontario to meet her husband at their new land. Driving down an isolated dirt road, she hit a patch of ice and lost control of her 2003 Oldsmobile Bravada. “You totally feel out of control,” says Sumara of her experience during the accident. “I was struck by the horror of realizing I couldn’t do anything.”

Her vehicle rolled over, and Sumara ended up trapped on her side, still held by her seat belt. She was shaken, but alive. Since there was no cell phone coverage in the area, she reached for the OnStar button on her dashboard. Within seconds, she was speaking to the police through OnStar. Thirty minutes later, emergency services arrived.

With OnStar, a driver and call center adviser communicate through an analog cellular connection. Sumara says GM plans to upgrade to digital, but analog provides the broadest coverage for now. OnStar has 2 million subscribers who use it for driving directions or emergencies, and from reporting accidents to unlocking their vehicles (after leaving their keys in the car). The system uses a combination of cellular and GPS technology.

“I was on a road that is not on a map,” Sumara says. “When I was talking with the [OnStar] adviser, she immediately identified my location and indicated the name of the road. It was a good example of how up-to-date their records are.” Though the accident totaled her car, Sumara says she “ended up with just a few cuts and bruises.”