For years the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has claimed that it would conduct research and introduce new rules and regulations for keyless vehicle ignitions, or smart keys. Since their introduction, smart keys have posed several dangers to consumers, including vehicle rollaways and, more recently, unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning resulting in death when a car engine is unknowingly left running.
There have been at least 20 reported deaths since 2009 due to this unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning, and all were linked to keyless ignitions. Despite this loss of life, the NHTSA has not introduced legislative efforts to protect consumers. In 2010, the NHTSA published a proposed rule that acknowledged the dangers of keyless ignitions, citing them for being much riskier than traditional, mechanical key systems. Yet, no regulation has been made by the NHTSA to address these lethal systems.
Consumers and innocent bystanders alike have died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. In one case, a woman died because she lived in an apartment that was connected to her neighbor’s garage: he was not aware that he had left his vehicle running. In 2015, a family of six nearly died because carbon monoxide seeped into their home. These instances show how the risk of carbon monoxide traveling from a garage into a house or apartment is high.
The former Chief Counsel of the NHTSA noted as far back as 2002 that keyless ignitions pose a consumer hazard because of the “absence of some kind of warning”. NHTSA officials were again reminded of these dangers in 2010 by the president of Safety Research & Strategies, a group that specializes in safety, product and motor vehicle issues.
As a result of these meetings, the NHTSA proposed a rule that would require vehicles with keyless ignitions to issue a loud, audio warning to alert consumers to these dangers. However, no further action has been taken.
The NHTSA released a statement regarding these ignition systems. They agreed that new provisions for keyless ignitions could reduce “potential risk of death or injury” to consumers, but also that “these systems are not widespread in current vehicles” and that “their benefits cannot yet be readily quantified”. However, this simply is untrue. Keyless ignitions are in fact widespread in current vehicles. At least 245 different car models have this system as a standard, and it is optional in more than 30 others.
While the NHTSA is claiming that there is no need to push legislation on regulating smart key ignitions, facts prove otherwise. Although the NHTSA has not done enough to protect consumers, some automakers have stepped up to the plate and begun to install automatic shut off systems.
Automatic shut-off systems are comprised of software that measures how long an engine has been idle, and when more than 20 minutes have passed, turns it off. Some cars come equipped with or offer software that shuts the engine down in as little as 10 minutes. That said, only one company, Ford, has featured engine shut off systems standard in its models since 2014. Others, like Toyota, offer the software as add-ons or accessories. Although they may not always come standard, as a consumer it is important to know that this software is obtainable and a safe option for decreasing the chances of carbon monoxide poisoning and death. Such safety features should not be optional. The NHTSA should mandate that all manufacturers include automatic shut-off systems.
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