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Keyless Ignitions Could Be a Secret Killer, Report Says

The Drive logoThe Drive 2018-05-18 Justin Hughes
© Harold Cunningham—Getty Images

The modern convenience of keyless ignition systems may have an unintended consequence, reports the New York Times. Drivers are forgetting to turn off their engines and are filling their homes with deadly carbon monoxide in the process.

Research

For many years it was a simple action to turn your ignition off and remove the key. That single movement became instinct. It would simultaneously turn off the engine and secure the car from being driven off from where it was parked.

But keyless ignition systems, now available in more than half of all new cars, have changed that interface in the name of convenience. Your key fob never has to leave your pocket, yet enables you to open the doors, turn on your engine, and drive away as though no security system existed thanks to its automatic functioning via proximity.

As a result, drivers have had to learn new instincts to operate their cars differently "from how it's always been done." Automatic transmission shifters now come in a variety of designs, some of which are not intuitive to drivers used to the old-style stick or column shifter. It's easy to make a mistake, and such a mistake led to the death of Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin in 2016.

In the case of keyless ignitions, replacing the traditional key-operated ignition with a simple start/stop button, combined with how quiet modern engines are, has led to a new problem. Some drivers simply forget to shut the engine off when they park. If parking in a garage, this can lead to brain damage or death by carbon monoxide poisoning as the invisible odorless gas fills the building.

Some cars will alert the driver when they exit the running car with the proximity key fob, as recommended by the Society of Automotive Engineers seven years ago when such systems started becoming common. But, while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has considered the situation, it has not mandated any particular alert system, leaving automakers on their own. Some manufacturers offer alert systems that beep the interior chime, honk the horn, or turn the engine off automatically, while others do nothing about the situation at all.

No federal agency currently keeps track of deaths related to carbon monoxide from keyless-ignition vehicles left running. From news reports, lawsuits, police and fire records and incidents tracked by advocacy groups, The New York Times has identified 28 deaths and 45 injuries since 2006, but the figures could be higher.

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