What’s a dead man’s switch?

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A deadman switch is a safety feature that shuts down a machine if the operator experiences a problem or becomes incapacitated. It requires operator input and can be found on a variety of machines. It can also make machinery difficult to steal.

The deadman switch is a safety feature built into many machines that works to shut down the machine if the operator experiences a problem. As the name suggests, it will also shut down a machine if the operator dies, but such devices will also shut down the engine if the operator becomes incapacitated. In many cases, such switches can operate even when the operator is being harassed or inconvenienced, as might be the case for a train operator being inconvenienced by passengers.

There are several styles of deadman switch, but all require some sort of operator input. When the operator stops interacting with the switch, a signal is sent to turn off the engine, thus shutting down the machine and applying the brakes, if applicable. While not an ideal safety device, this measure can prevent loss of life and damage to property.

In a classic version, the switch is placed on a lever or rod with which the operator must maintain constant contact. On a lawn mower, for example, users must hold the mower handle in place to keep the engine running. A dead man’s switch can also be a button or pedal that must be held down to keep the machine running, and some advanced systems use tactile sensors that rely on very light pressure from your hands or feet.

Dead man switches can be found on a wide variety of machines, including trains, tractors, boats, and heavy lifting equipment. They can also be found on machines designed for personal use, such as treadmills and power boats. A common form on some devices is a key tether, which pulls the key out of the ignition if the user falls or slumps backwards, cutting power.

You may also hear a dead man’s switch referred to as a stop switch, dead man’s handle, dead man’s brake, or dead man’s control. In the case of a car used to transport large numbers of people or goods, the switch is commonly connected to a data logger, so that in the event of an accident, investigators can determine whether the safety feature has worked as it should have.

An unexpected benefit of the dead man’s switch is that it can make machinery very difficult to steal, except by experienced operators. Such switches are often sneaky or confusing for people who have not been trained on a particular machine to use, and as a result, thieves may find it difficult or impossible to start the machine in order to steal it.

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