US: keyless ignition systems now turning into a deadly issue image

Way back in December 2011, the US auto safety regulator issued a public notice in the Federal Register because it believed vehicles with keyless ignition systems might become a “clear safety problem.”

The issue is that a simple oversight can have fatal consequences – carbon monoxide poisoning because drivers can inadvertently leave a vehicle running in an enclosed space, such as a garage. The NHTSA wanted new safety standards but almost four years have passed and they have not been implemented yet. According to media reviews of related deaths in the US, at least 13 fatalities have occurred since 2009 from carbon monoxide poisonings tied to keyless ignition systems. And federal regulators have received a flurry of consumer complaints that it’s way too easy to leave your car running if using a keyless feature.

The federal standards mandate that vehicles with a traditional key need to shut down the engine in order for the key to be removed. There’s no comparable rule for the keyless feature-equipped cars – they will continue to run if the driver doesn’t specifically stop the engine even if he or she takes the electronic key fob away. Meanwhile, the NHTSA determined it would need loud warning signals to mitigate such accidents and the cost of implementation would be minimal – though the automakers have not been instructed so far to take any action. Now the federal regulator wants to introduce a proposal for an alarm of at least 85 decibels if the key fob is taken out of the car while the engine is still running – similar to a smoke alarm level and clearly audible from outside the vehicle.