It’s quick. It’s easy. It’s cool. But is it safe?
That’s the question for the many people driving a car with a keyless ignition since this feature appeared around 2000. The big surprise was the linking of this new gizmo to auto accidents and carbon monoxide poisoning.
How a Keyless Ignition Works
The keyless ignition lets drivers start vehicle engines by using an electronic key fob and pushing a button. No physical key is necessary. It’s become so popular that more than half of all new U.S. cars and trucks sold have keyless ignitions.
Dangers of the Keyless Ignition
- Power Loss: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s database has many claims related to the loss of engine power in keyless-start vehicles. Essentially, the car’s computer senses the presence of the key fob even though it isn’t there.
- Rolling cars: Typically, the driver shut off the engine when the car was in either reverse or drive. The vehicle rolled, striking other vehicles, bicycles, or pedestrians. This contrasts with traditional vehicles, which must be in park for the driver to be able to kill the engine. If there’s no automatic shut-down, the car can keep running for a long time. Should it slip out of gear, killing a pedestrian or someone in another vehicle, the possibility of wrongful death looms.
- Carbon monoxide poisoning: In 2015, a class action lawsuit was filed in California on behalf of the millions who either owned or leased vehicles that had keyless ignitions. It cited 13 deaths from carbon monoxide linked to vehicles with this feature. The suit sought an injunction ordering 10 manufacturers to install an automatic shut-down on keyless vehicles. While some of these auto manufacturers have started to install this feature on recent vehicles, older models don’t have the capability.
18 Killed in the US- Links between Keyless Cars & Carbon Monoxide
Labor Day weekend of 2015 was the last one Mona Sternbach, of Boynton, Beach, Florida, would celebrate. After parking her car in her enclosed garage, she accidentally left the keyless-ignition vehicle running. Once carbon monoxide fumes spread through her home, she died. By the end of 2015, the number of U.S. deaths attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning and keyless cars had climbed to at least 18.
Gerald Zitser, 84, was still holding his TV remote control when he was found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning. What happened? When he came home from the grocery, he inadvertently left his keyless-ignition car running.
Even scarier was the case of Chasity Glisson, 29. Authorities eventually determined that she died as the result of carbon monoxide poisoning after leaving a 2006 Lexus IS250 running in her townhouse garage. Although her key fob was in the living room on the second floor, the car continued to run. The vehicle was even equipped with an alert to send drivers a warning if they removed the keyless ignition with the car still running.
How do we make Keyless Ignition Safer?
Vehicle manufacturers still haven’t stepped up to the plate as far as designing safety standards that make it safe to drive a keyless-ignition car. And federal provisions governing the safety of these vehicles are murky at best. Consider:
- The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) for Automated Vehicles mandates that a vehicle shouldn’t be operated after removal of its key from the ignition.
- They also specify that drivers shouldn’t operate a vehicle with an automatic transmission until that vehicle is in park.
Here’s the thing: The federal provisions contain potential outs for keyless vehicles. It seems that so far, they don’t prevent keyless driving hazards.
Photo via Flickr by Frank Derks