In the mid-1990s, keyless ignition systems started to become available in luxury vehicles. Today, they are much more popular and are offered as standard or optional equipment in many models.
They’re convenient and easy to use, as the driver can start the car without having to insert a physical key into the ignition. But the lack of a key is also allegedly creating some safety risks.
According to recent reports from the New York Times and other media outlets, more than two dozen people have been killed from carbon monoxide poisoning after failing to shut off their vehicles with keyless ignitions. An additional 45 have suffered injuries from carbon monoxide gas.
Mom and Son Suffer Symptoms From Carbon Monoxide After Leaving Car Running
Keyless entry and ignition systems have no traditional key, but instead have only a push-button to unlock and start the car. The system works by sending an encoded signal to a receiver in the car. This signal then tells the car to unlock or start the engine. The button also needs to be pushed to stop the car engine, but this is the step that is sometimes easily missed in everyday life.
AJC News reports that a busy Florida mom left her car running in the garage as she hurried to start a conference call. She stated she pushed the button to close the garage door and somehow didn’t remember to push the button to stop the car. The car continued to run, sending carbon dioxide into the home.
The mother’s 13-month-old son later woke up screaming after midnight, and when she went to pick him up, he went limp in her arms. She got dizzy herself and ran out into the garage, where she saw that the taillights on her car were still on and the engine was still running.
Florida Man Found Dead From Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
The Times reports that a 75-year-old Florida man drove his Toyota into his garage and went into the house with the wireless key fob, apparently believing the car was shut off. Twenty-nine hours later he was found dead, a victim of carbon monoxide poisoning. His son later told the Times that his father thought that “when he took the key with him when he left the car, the car would be off.”
All of the deaths associated with carbon monoxide poisoning from keyless systems have been associated with vehicles being left running in a garage. Injuries have included brain damage and death. Without a physical key to actually turn and remove, some users forget to push the button, particularly if the car’s engine is quieter, which is often the case in the newer model vehicles.
Several years ago, the Society of Automotive Engineers called for the implementation of alerts into the car to let the driver know the engine was still running. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has proposed a federal regulation to require manufacturers to add these modifications, but nothing has been passed yet.
Families File Keyless System Lawsuits
Some automakers are voluntarily making the change. Ford’s keyless vehicles will now turn off automatically after 30 minutes of idling if the key fob is not in the vehicle. Meanwhile, families who have suffered injuries or deaths are filing lawsuits against carmakers, claiming the companies knew about the risks and failed to take appropriate action.