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Keyless Ignition Danger: Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Due To Engines Not Shutting Off

July 9, 2019 by Steven M. Gursten

Keyless Ignition Danger: Carbon Monoxide Poisoning | Michigan Auto Law

Attorney Tom Baker Discusses The Danger of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning From Keyless Ignitions

Michigan Auto Law attorney Tom Baker talked to WZZM 13 Grand Rapids about the keyless ignition danger that is causing carbon monoxide poisoning.

Specifically, Tom explained that this relatively new ignition technology – which is supposed to make people’s lives easier – is really putting people’s lives in jeopardy by not shutting off the engines to people’s cars.

When a car is parked in an attached garage and its engine continues to run because the keyless ignition system didn’t work properly, he explained, the car will emit carbon monoxide which will enter the home and injure or kill the people who live there.

As attorney Tom Baker told WZZM:

“[You’re] walking away and the car is still running, but you’ve got the fob in your pocket so you think that you’re fine and the car has been shut off and it hasn’t . . . If [you’ve] never manually turned the car off, the car will continue to run . . . Many homes today have garages that are attached to the house. So as the car runs – it’s an internal combustion engine – it releases carbon monoxide which is odorless and, unfortunately, deadly. You don’t know you’re breathing it in, you fall asleep and you ultimately stop breathing and you die.”

The seriousness of this keyless ignition danger and the carbon monoxide it releases has become readily apparent with each tragedy reported.  

Since 2006, 28 people have been killed and 45 more people have been injured by carbon monoxide poisoning caused by this keyless ignition technology, according to the New York Times. Since May of 2018, five more fatalities have already been identified.

To hear WZZM’s full interview with Attorney Tom Baker, check out the video below.

Lawmakers will consider PARK IT legislation to address this keyless ignition danger

Lawmakers in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives are considering legislation to protect car owners from this keyless ignition danger. If passed, it would aim to prevent future CO-related deaths and injuries resulting from vehicles that were not actually shut off by this ignition technology.

The so-called PARK IT Act legislation, which stands for “Protecting Americans from the Risks of Keyless Ignition Technology Act,” was introduced in the Senate in February 2019 as S. 543 and in the House in June 2019 as H.R. 3145.

Specifically, the PARK IT Act would:

Force the Secretary of Transportation through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) “to require [car] manufacturers to install technology in each motor vehicle equipped with a keyless ignition device and an internal combustion engine to automatically shut off the motor vehicle after the motor vehicle has idled for the period designated [by the Administrator of NHTSA so as] . . . to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.” (Section 2(b)(1)(A) and (B))

What has been done previously to address this  keyless ignition danger?

Effectively nothing has been done previously to address this keyless ignition danger.

In 2011, NHTSA issued a “Notice of proposed rulemaking” to “address safety issues arising from increasing variations of keyless ignition controls, and the operation of those controls” such as:

  • “[Drivers who unintentionally leave the vehicle . . . with the engine still running, increasing the chances of . . . carbon monoxide poisoning in an enclosed area.”
  • “The possibility that the driver will walk away from a vehicle whose propulsion system has been unintentionally left active (even though the driver may have placed the transmission in ‘‘park’’). If the vehicle is in an enclosed garage connected to living quarters, this situation may result in carbon monoxide poisoning of persons in the dwelling . . .”

In the notice, the NHTSA indicated that, in order to address the safety issues above, it was considering requiring car manufacturers to install an “Audible Warning To Reduce Chances of Drivers’ Leaving a Vehicle With the Propulsion System Active.”

Interestingly, NHTSA mentioned the option of requiring the installation of an “automatic shut off” feature to protect car owners of this keyless ignition danger – such as what is being proposed in the PARK IT Act legislation – but opted against it:

  • “We have been unable to conclude that there is a specified period of time after which the propulsion system should be shut down to effectively address various scenarios mentioned . . .  to the agency . . . We believe that the new alert that we are proposing would refocus the driver’s attention on the vehicle when s/he is leaving if s/he has inadvertently left the propulsion system active. For these reasons, we tentatively conclude that we do not need to regulate vehicle propulsion automatic shut off systems at this time . . .”

Although the comment period ended in 2012, NHTSA has taken no action to address the “safety issues” identified in its 2011 notice.

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