The Danger of Keyless Ignition and Carbon Monoxide: A Deadly Problem with No Common Solution [News]

Keyless Ignition linked to carbon monoxide deaths.
People are dying from carbon monoxide poisoning as they forget to turn their cars off after parking in a garage. [Photo:]

Keyless ignition and remarkably quiet engines in modern cars have actually been killing people, according to a report in The New York Times.

Every single year, it seems we in the car buying public get a whole new suite of features to make driving more convenient. Less than twenty years ago, in fact, keyless entry and ignition were luxuries on all but the most expensive luxury models. These days, more than half of new cars sold have keyless ignition as standard equipment, and it’s an option in virtually every modern car. Things like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto make it easier to control our music and phone calls without taking our eyes of the road and hands off the wheel. But there’s a down side to all this convenience. According to a New York Times report, people are forgetting to shut their cars off when they park in their garage. Hours later, thanks to exhaust fumes filling up their home, they end up dying.

Now, most people have adapted to live with keyless ignition over the years. It’s just become a habit to hit the button and stop the engine when you park, same as you would to start the engine. Despite the fact that its second nature to most, we live extremely busy lives. We can be distracted by kids and phone calls and groceries and whatever else. In doing so, modern cars have such quiet engines that we simply forget to shut the car off. It’s a more common problem than you might think. Over the past twelve years, more than two dozen people have died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

How manufacturers approach the issue

At present, there is no regulatory standard that mandates a certain solution to this issue. According to the New York Times report, Toyota and Lexus models account for nearly half the deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning. The report also indicated elderly people make up most of these deaths, many of whom drive those models. Toyota’s cars have an audible warning to remind the drivers that the engine’s still running if they remove the key fob from the vehicle. Mazda and several other manufacturers have similar warnings. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) called for that feature after identifying an alarming pattern between keyless ignition systems and carbon monoxide poisonings. They called for an audible warning, as well as possibly shutting the engine off automatically. However, few cars actually do shut themselves off after idling for a set amount of time.

Why is that the case? Manufacturers like Jaguar do take that route – shutting the car off automatically after you put the vehicle in park and take your foot off the brake. It’s understandable that, while most won’t forget to turn their car off, accidents do happen, and some will. You could argue its an issue of personal responsibility – that people should consciously double check to make sure their car isn’t running. That way, these scenarios don’t happen, as they have in Florida, for instance. “They were literally driving their own vehicles into the garage and closing the door,” said Doug McGlynn, fire chief for the Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Department.

Florida has seen an alarming rise in vehicle-related carbon monoxide deaths

The fire department in Palm Beach County handed out carbon monoxide detectors as well as signs that read, “Carbon Monoxide Kills. Is Your Car Off?” That helped, as deaths related to the issue fell 30 percent. However, reports like the New York Times article suggest regulators should place more pressure on the manufacturers to address the problem. Plainly, keyless ignition is here to stay, so automakers could fit a device or program the car to shut itself off after a certain amount of time. Remote start already functions along similar lines, shutting itself off after 20-30 minutes if no one gets in. That way, people won’t lose their lives if they forget to shut off their cars.