KEYLESS IGNITION SYSTEMS –
CONVENIENCE OR CATASTROPHE?
At first glance, keyless car ignition systems seem to be a pretty good and convenient way to get going.
Here’s how it works: Imbedded in the key’s fob is a microchip which sends out encoded signals to the auto’s computer. When the key fob is at a set distance from the vehicle, the two exchange specific electronic handshakes, and the auto usually unlocks the doors for the driver to enter.
Now, instead of having to insert a key into the ignition switch, all you have to do is press a “start” button – and the engine engages. The miracles of modern technology – right?
Here’s the problem:
What comes on should turn off.
But in some cases that just doesn’t happen.
ONE WAY STREET
Modern keyless ignition switches seem to have one glaring flaw. With keyed systems, you usually can’t remove the key until the car is placed in park and the ignition switch is turned to the off position – killing the engine. Also regulations stipulate after the key is removed from the starting system, the vehicle can’t be operated. (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 114.)
You may think with a keyless system, when a car’s computer senses that the electronic fob has moved out of range, the ignition system would likewise shut off, stopping the engine.
This however isn’t the case.
If the driver doesn’t manually stop the engine by pressing a button, the car continues to run. This could be chalked up to a gas-wasting inconvenience, except for one major point:
What if the auto is left running in an enclosed space, such as a garage?
The consequences can be deadly.
This is what happened to 13 motorists already. Either forgetting to manually shut off the engine, or believing that the keyless system would automatically do it for them, the cars that were left in a closed garage kept pumping out deadly carbon monoxide from the exhaust.
The colorless and mostly odorless fumes built up, infiltrated the home – and people lost their lives.
DEATH BY CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING
Such were the circumstances on February 27, 2009. Mary Rivera, Ph.D., Professor of Education Administration at New York’s Fordham University had parked her new Lexus in her garage – but failed to hit the button that would turn the engine off.
This isn’t as absent-minded as it may sound. When a driver is used to placing a key in the ignition switch all their life, when that step is eliminated – mistakes can and do happen.
The engine continued to run, and while she and her life-partner Ernest Codelia slept that night, the carbon monoxide built up – killing him and causing Ms. Rivera permanent brain damage.
(Red blood cells have a greater affinity for carbon monoxide than for normal oxygen. When CO gas combines with hemoglobin, unlike with O2 the bond remains stable. The victim literally suffocates because the blood is no longer capable of transporting oxygen to the body.)
ROLLING CAR ACCIDENTS
As you read above, with a keyed system the auto must usually be placed in “park” before the key can be withdrawn. With a keyless system, a car can be shut down while still in the “drive” position – with unintended rolling and the possibility of human or property damage as a result.
10 AUTOMAKERS IMPLICATED
In a consumer class action lawsuit, ten automakers (with an estimated five million cars affected) have been cited for improperly designing their keyless systems, along with failing to include failsafe measures for cutting off the engine after a driver has exited the vehicle.
The lawsuit alleges these automakers have known for years about the increased dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning, but have done little or nothing to correct the problem.
The 10 companies, along with their keyless systems are:
- Audi “Advanced Key”
- BMW “Comfort Access”
- Ford Motor Company “Intelligent Access”
- General Motors “Passive Entry Passive Start”
- Hyundai “Proximity Key”
- Lexus “Smart Access”
- Mercedes “Keyless Go”
- Nissan “Intelligent Key”
- Toyota “Smart Key”
- Volkswagen “KESSY” (Keyless Entry & Keyless Start)
Most if not all of these systems do employ both visual and / or acoustic reminders for the driver to turn the engine off. (Notifications on the dashboard along with chirps or short horn beeps.)
But people do make mistakes or become distracted. In fact, it’s estimated that literally thousands of drivers with keyless systems have made the mistake of leaving their cars running after they’ve left the vehicle.
If you are one of the five million drivers using a keyless ignition system – always make sure you press that off button before you exit the vehicle. The life you save may very well be your own.
TERRY BRYANT LAW FIRM
Terry Bryant Law Firm in Houston has been helping Texas residents for over 30 years with their legal problems and concerns, ensuring their clients get the very best advice, assistance and compensation they are entitled to.
If you have been injured or suspect an injury due to a keyless car entry and ignition system, our attorneys can help evaluate your situation.