Starting a car with the push of a button must have seemed like some wild fantasy for drivers just 30 years ago. Now, the push-start ignition is a standard feature in most new makes and models sold around the United States.
Some of the setbacks with this convenience were easy to foresee, like the key fobs being expensive to replace and keep up with. One setback, in particular, has been deadly to these drivers and should raise caution for the others who haven’t been affected.
With no physical key to turn off when you’ve parked the car in the garage, it’s easy to forget to push your car “off” since car engines are quieter than ever in 2018. So while you’ve gone inside believing your car has been shut off, the vehicle continues to run with the exhaust pumping out carbon monoxide. Within hours your house can turn into a deadly gas trap and there’s nothing you would be able to do about it.
More than 24 people have died this very same way since the keyless ignition went on the market in 2006 with dozens more left injured or with brain damage. Federal regulators have been pushing for some kind of safety feature to prevent these kinds of incidents, such as an audible-beeping mechanism or an automatic shutoff after a certain period of time.
Even though these are features that could be implemented for pennies on the dollar, automakers have fought back against these regulations for years — leaving it up to the very same companies fighting safety regulation to voluntarily put in their own safety checks. For example, Toyota has a system of three loud sirens that will go off if the car is left running.
But in the same breath, Toyota’s executives rejected their engineer’s recommendation for more effective warning signals. Plenty of other car manufacturers have been guilty of this kind of oversight, though to call it totally unforeseen would be factually incorrect.
In 2006 the National Highway Safety Administration administered a regulation on keyless ignitions stating “a warning must be sufficient to catch a driver’s attention before he or she exits the vehicle without the keys.” So this rule has been around as long as the keyless ignition feature has been around, but more than 75 incidents later we still have no federal regulations protecting consumers from a potentially deadly run-in with carbon monoxide.
A class-action lawsuit formed in 2015 with claims the keyless ignition led to 13 carbon-monoxide related deaths, but the suit was dismissed a year later. This hasn’t kept other lawsuits from being filed, but as of today, no legal action has been taken against Toyota, Lexus, Mazda, Fiat or any of the other automakers whose cars have been linked to carbon-monoxide related deaths.
Until there is an adequate incentive, outside peoples’ lives, for car companies to take the initiative to make their cars safer, it’s on drivers to look out for their own safety. If you own a vehicle with a keyless ignition, make sure your car is off by pushing the button before you exit the car. Put your hand or ear near the hood to feel or hear for vibration just to be careful.