Keyless Ignition Cars and Deaths from Carbon Monoxide

Written By Benjamin L. Vanasse

In May of 2018, the New York Times published an article titled “Deadly Convenience: Keyless Cars and Their Carbon Monoxide Toll”, reporting on a number of deadly incidents since 2006 that have been tied to a modern automotive convenience: the Keyless Car. Over 17 million new vehicles sold annually are equipped with keyless ignitions according to auto information website Edmunds. The reported deaths all follow a similar pattern. Because they don’t have to turn a physical key, people often can forget to shut off their keyless vehicles. When this happens after people pull into garages attached to homes, the homes fill up with carbon monoxide from the engine still running and poisoned occupants, often while people are asleep. Since 2006, 28 people have been killed and 45 injured by carbon monoxide poisoning from keyless ignition vehicles.

Regulations were first proposed in 2011 to address the issue. Recently, Senator Richard Blumenthal introduced a bill that would direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to adopt a rule addressing this danger. General Motors just recently announced that they would support the bill, although some other auto manufacturers referred to a statement by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers stating “current keyless ignition system designs generally follow the recommended practices” of the Society of Automotive Engineers when asked whether they would support the bill. Blumenthal introduced the bill to force car manufacturers to institute consistent safeguards to prevent these accidents. While some manufacturers have introduced an automatic engine shut-off feature, others only have audio or visual alerts to warn drivers that their engine is still running. For example, Toyota vehicles beep externally three times, and once inside to warn the driver. Toyota’s Lexus models have been involved in almost half of all of these fatal incidents according to the New York Times. The legislation is also intended to address the danger of rollaway vehicles which are responsible for the deaths of 142 since 2015.

These fatal accidents reinforce the need for there to be comprehensive standards to prevent these easily avoidable accidents. The cost associated with fixing this defect is relatively modest. For example, in a 2015 recall on GM vehicles, it cost them only $5 per vehicle to install the automatic shutoff feature.

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