Alleged hit-and-run driver arrested after her car rats her out

The car of a Florida woman accused of hit and run was fitted with sensors that automatically contact emergency services when the car experiences weird movement or if the airbags deploy.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


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Cathy Bernstein, allegedly caught by her tech.

ABC7 screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

You never know who's got your back.

Not people and perhaps not even inanimate objects.

Many are so full of technology that they don't merely record, they don't merely spy. Sometimes, they call the authorities on you. Which might actually be a good thing.

As my evidence, might I present the Ford car that was allegedly so disturbed about a woman's driving that it called 911?

As ABC 7 reports, 57-year-old Cathy Bernstein was driving her Ford in Port St. Lucie, Florida, on Friday when she allegedly ran into a Ford truck and then a Dodge minivan.

She allegedly left both accidents without so much as stopping. However, her car was fitted with Sync Emergency Assistance technology. This meant that it automatically contacted the emergency services to say that the car had endured some kind of traumatic event.

In Bernstein's case, a recording of her conversation with the 911 dispatcher has emerged.

She is heard to say: "Ma'am, there's no problem. Everything was fine."

"OK. But your car called in saying you'd been involved in an accident. It doesn't do that for no reason," replies the dispatcher. Then she asks a knowing question: "Did you leave the scene of an accident?"

"No, I would never do that," is Bernstein's reply.

Police appear to think differently. They reportedly went to Bernstein's house, where they found her Ford damaged. Moreover, officials reportedly found paint from one of the vehicles Bernstein allegedly struck on it. The Ford's airbag had also been deployed, suggesting the tech had been activated with good reason.

WPBF-TV reports Bernstein allegedly told police she'd hit a tree. She was then arrested and treated at a hospital before she was sent to jail, ABC 7 reported.

The Port St. Lucie police didn't immediately return a request for comment. Bernstein couldn't immediately be reached for comment and it wasn't clear whether she had legal representation.

An alleged victim of accident, Anne Preston, told ABC that she ended up in the same hospital as Bernstein. "I just went by and I'm assuming she had a worse night than I did," she said with remarkable magnanimity.

Naturally, the technology, commonly known as 911 Assist, was created to help those who might find themselves in accidents, especially if you can't reach the controls. It works by pairing with your Bluetooth-enabled device and allowing you to talk out loud to the 911 dispatcher.

In Bernstein's case, the tech turned her in.

A few might think this is a peculiar intrusion into someone's privacy. More, I suspect, might see a certain justice in the notion that -- if Bernstein did as she is alleged -- at least some form of restitution might occur.

There are, at least, no reports of serious injuries resulting from the crash. Preston reportedly says she was on her way to a Christmas party at her dance company to deliver gifts.

I wonder, though, if Bernstein knew she had the tech enabled. Might she have set it up herself? Or had it been set up for her when she bought the car? Ford says on its website that its default is the off setting.

A spokesman for Ford told me: "Based on the available facts of the Florida crash, we believe SYNC 911 Assist worked exactly as it should by assisting the customer to call 911 upon detecting that the airbag deployed."

This type of tech has been used in many cars for quite a few years now. The European Union has decreed it should be compulsory in European cars by 2018.

Which might make one or two potential hit-and-run drivers less likely to run.

Update, December 8 at 9:50 a.m. PT: Adds comment from Ford.

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