Silent Killers: The Dangers of Keyless Ignitions

How the technology raises risk of carbon monoxide poisoning

Are all the electronics in your car a good thing? When it comes to safety features, such as anti-lock brakes and stability-control systems, the answer is yes. Convenience features like touchscreens, however, can add distraction and, at worst, can be dangerous. Now, keyless ignitions are raising concerns over potential carbon monoxide poisoning.

In a report prepared by the New York Times, dozens of people have died or been seriously injured by carbon monoxide emitted from vehicles with keyless ignitions.

 

How do keyless ignitions increase risk of carbon monoxide poisoning?

Keyless ignitions are standard features on most new vehicles today. In fact, automakers have stated that they plan to phase out traditional keys in the next few years. Currently, tens of millions of vehicles have keyless ignitions.

With this feature, drivers use a wireless key fob to lock, unlock and start their vehicles. While convenient, keyless ignitions open the door to the possibility of exiting the vehicle with the key fob without turning the vehicle off. If a driver leaves a vehicle running in a garage, the vehicle could emit enough carbon monoxide — which doesn’t have a color or scent — to kill the driver if the driver’s home is connected to its garage.

This is especially true with quiet, hybrid cars. The engine might not be running when the car is first parked, but will come on later as the car’s batteries run down. Even many non-hybrid cars today have extremely quiet engines, the sound of which can be virtually undetectable when the car is parked.

 

What are automakers doing to prevent carbon monoxide accidents?

To help prevent carbon monoxide-related accidents, some automakers, like Toyota, are adding audible notifications to alert drivers to vehicles still running. Others, such as General Motors, have designed their cars to automatically shut off after a certain period of time once the driver has left the vehicle.

However, these new safety features have only been recently added by automakers, which means tens of millions of drivers with older vehicles will have to be diligent about ensuring their vehicles are turned off before parking in a garage.

 

What can drivers do to better protect themselves from carbon monoxide accidents?

The best way to protect yourself from carbon monoxide accidents is attentiveness. Reports indicate that the majority of deaths and injuries caused by keyless ignitions and carbon monoxide poisoning were attributed to distraction. For example, in several cases, the drivers were on the phone while exiting the car and forgot to push the car off.

Reports also show that many drivers keep their wireless key fobs in their purses or pockets. By doing this, drivers no longer have to physically “remove” their keys from the ignition to exit the vehicle.

Here are three safety tips to help protect yourself and your family from carbon monoxide accidents.

  • Keep your key fob in a cup holder or center console of your vehicle. This will force you to pick-up your key before existing the vehicle.
  • Check every time that your vehicle is off when you exit—especially if you are parked in a garage connected to your home.
  • Install a carbon monoxide monitor near where the garage connects to the home.


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