When auto manufacturers developed the first keyless ignition switch cars shortly before 2000, they emphasized the convenience and safety of not having to handle physical clunky keys. Such cars would be harder to steal and easier to operate due to “smart key” technology which emits a signal that allows the car to start with the touch of a button when within a certain range. Even the car door locks can detect the key fob signal at very close range and unlock automatically in some newer cars now. However, this convenience may come with potentially deadly consequences. A problem could occur if people forget to turn off the ignition before exiting the car when parked in an attached garage, resulting in potential carbon monoxide exposure and poisoning in their homes.
According to the Times, roughly half of the 17 million new cars sold per year in the U.S. are equipped with this keyless car technology and the total number of associated deaths has risen, totaling at least 37. The greatest number of fatalities have been in Florida, where authorities theorize that elderly residents may forget to turn off the car’s ignition. However, forgetting to turn off the ignition is not limited to just the elderly.
Increasingly, auto manufacturers are facing law suits accusing them of not doing enough to install adequate alarm systems which would warn drivers as they walk away from the car. Law suits argue that a mere series of beeps, typically heard upon walking away from an operating car, is inadequate and there should be, at a minimum, more distinct and persistent alarm sounds and flashing lights. The goal amongst safety experts is to pass a bill requiring the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to require all vehicles with keyless ignition to automatically turn themselves off after a specified period of idling time. Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies, has done extensive research and has been one of the most vocal and tireless advocates for demanding better safety measures in vehicles with automatic ignitions systems. Mr. Kane argues that “The technology already exists to do what the bill asks. Auto shutoffs have been used by some carmakers since 2012…the cost for automakers to add safety technology to vehicles would be nominal.” (Detroit Free Press, 6/14/19)
In the meantime, CED has a couple of precautionary tips, particularly for those with attached garages. We strongly urge the public to install carbon monoxide detectors on every floor of a house with attached garages, and to have these detectors checked every six months. And, follow the example of one police chief in Florida who started distributing signs to the public. The sign read: “CHECK CAR IS OFF.” Go ahead and affix that sign in your garage entryway at eye-level (After all, who among us hasn’t benefited from a post-it note reminder occasionally?) Finally, are you one of those homeowners who has always had to trudge through rain or snow from your musty old New England style stand-alone garage? Well, it may not be such a bad thing after all.
Materials Science Engineer
Senior Civil Engineer