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Beware of Smart key hazards causing injury and carbon monoxide poisoning

September 10, 2012 by Steven M. Gursten

Carbon monoxide poisoning and roll away accidents are now established  dangers of key less ignition systems

I recently started working on a “Smart” car case I’d like discuss today.  Obviously, as lawyers, we focus exclusively on helping people injured in car accidents.  Through the years, that has also come to include some product liability cases – to the extent that product liability cases are still viable in Michigan.

But this new case involves a Smart car key less ignition system that caused a serious injury.  Through working on the case and working with other lawyers who are starting to see Smart car key injury and poisoning cases, I’ve come across some extremely serious hazards resulting from these key less ignition systems – also called “Smart keys” – that I’d like to share today.

Two things are particularly interesting about these Smart car cases.  First, there has been very little news about the potential dangers of these key less ignition system cases.  And the second is that if you have a new car, chances are you have a Smart key.  This blog post can alert you to some very real dangers so you can protect yourself and your family.

If you’re not familiar with the Smart key, these are electronic keys that usually work in combination with push-button starter ignition systems on newer cars.  Smart keys have become  very common. The plastic key fob is not the actual key; it’s really the invisible code on the computer chip inside the fob that starts the car.

The fob turns the car on, but doesn’t always turn the car off.

And this in turn, is causing some very serious injury cases across the country. There are two deadly problems stemming from this new technology “convenience” of the Smart key fob.

Carbon monoxide poisoning and Smart keys

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can cause serious brain damage and death.

In the past three years, at least three people in Florida, for example, have died of carbon monoxide poisonings after the driver unknowingly left the car running via a Smart key in an attached garage.

There have been other deaths throughout the country due to the key less ignition systems.  I am aware of a couple cases in Michigan now as well.  But the real problem is likely still being significantly under reported, as law enforcement often point to human error, instead of recognizing how the key design defect causes the problem.

As I said before, the electronic computer code within the Smart key fob is considered the key, not the fob itself. This is different from the usual practice of taking a traditional metal key out of the ignition, thus stopping the engine.

With Smart keys, there are a variety of sequences designed to remove the computer code and turn the car off: place the transmission in park, shot off the engine, open and close the driver’s side door.

How are drivers leaving their cars running with Smart keys? Because they are used to the physical reminder of the metal key, they often don’t realize that if they don’t follow the sequence required by the Smart key, then they can get out of their vehicle, key in hand, with the engine on.

Because engines today are quieter than ever, and there is no alarm that sounds to alert the driver that the engine is still running, these carbon monoxide deaths will only increase.

Roll away accidents

Smart keys are also causing roll away crashes, where the car actually rolls away from the driver, sometimes even running the driver over.

Smart keys allow the driver to exit the car, key in hand, engine off (if they’re lucky) but the vehicle is still in a gear other than park.

Drivers naturally assume that the Smart key in hand means that the car is in park, because you can’t remove a traditional metal key unless the car is in park.

Roll away accidents caused by Smart keys are increasing, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Also, there have been consumer complaints to the NHTSA that the Smart Key fob malfunctioned, turning the car on; and that jostling the key can cause the car to start as well.

–    Steve Gursten is an attorney at Michigan Auto Law, Michigan’s largest law firm specializing in helping people injured in auto accidents. He is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and works with lawyers across the country on new and developing trends in car injury and accident cases, such as Smart car key less ignition system cases.

Related information:

Michigan car accident FAQs

Michigan Auto Law helps people injured in car, truck and motorcycle accidents throughout the state. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Sterling Heights. Call (800) 777-0028 to speak with one of our lawyers.

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