The Silent Killer: Keyless Start Systems

The Silent Killer: Keyless Start Systems
Keyless Start
We brought you the story last week about Toyota announcing new safety features for 2020, including an automatic engine shutoff system. At first glance, I thought Toyota was announcing start/stop on every vehicle, but that was not the case. This was a system to kill the engine if it was accidentally left on. Now we know why.

Since 2005, 37 people have died from carbon monoxide poisoning because they parked their car in a garage and did not turn the engine off from the pushbutton start.

The latest victim, according to USA TODAY, is a 69-year old Pennsylvania man named Russell Fish. Russell's wife was out of town and he ran to get some food. Once done, he and his dog went to bed. 10 hours later he was found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning. Authorities said he left his Toyota 4Runner running in his garage. Sadly the dog passed away as well. Mr. Fish is the fourth person to die this year in a similar manner.

Pending Legislation

According to the USA Today report, this past February, a proposed law dubbed the PARK IT Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate. A House version was introduced June 6.

The name stands for Protecting Americans from the Risk of Keyless Technology. It seeks the following:
  • That automakers be required to provide an automatic shutoff for keyless internal combustion engines when the car has been idling for a designated period of time.
  • That carmakers add an anti-rollaway feature to immobilize a car if a driver exits it, but leaves it in gear.

It mandates that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issue rules within two years of the law's passage.

Rollaway vehicles have been another concern. There have been a number of instances, in fact, 142 deaths to be exact, in just the 2012-2014 time frame due to rollaway accidents, according to the NHTSA. It is likely there have been many more since.

Some Automakers Have The Technology Now

Ford, General Motors, and Fiat Chrysler already have technology that will shut the engine off after certain periods of time. In fact, Ford and General Motors implemented this feature in 2013.

NHTSA Has Addressed The Keyless Ignition Issue

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has addressed this issue at its website,

    • What is a Keyless Ignition System?

      Keyless Ignition Systems, as they are commonly called, usually consist of a device (also known as a key fob or a FOB) carried by the driver, which takes over the functions of a traditional metal key. Verification of the correct device is done electronically when the driver attempts to start the vehicle usually by pushing a button or turning a rotary switch.

    • Are all Keyless Ignition Systems the same?

      Keyless Ignition Systems differ across models. Push buttons are most common, but there are also rocker-type switches that must be flipped, and rotary switches that must be rotated similar to the traditional ignition switch that is turned with a key. Systems differ in alerts given to the driver if an unsafe condition occurs (e.g., not putting the transmission in "park" before shutting down the engine or propulsion systems for electric/hybrid vehicles or leaving the vehicle while the engine is still active). Refer to your owner's manual for further details on how your vehicle is operated in normal and emergency situations, and for the alerts that your vehicle sounds.

    • When were Keyless Ignition Systems made available in America?

      Keyless Ignition Systems first became available in the early 2000s in luxury models, but are now also available in more mainstream vehicles.

    • What are the dangers with vehicles that feature these systems?

      NHTSA's concerns are drivers who shut off the engine without putting their vehicle in "park" and walk away from the vehicle, leaving it prone to roll away; drivers who do put their vehicles in park, but inadvertently leave the engine active, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in a closed environment; and drivers who do not know how to shut down the engine of their vehicle in the event of an on-road emergency.

    • What can I do to make sure my car is turned off?

      Follow some basic safety tips like making sure your car is in "park" before shutting down the engine, making sure the engine is shut down, applying the vehicle's parking brake, checking your owner's manual for detailed instructions on how to operate your vehicle properly, and watching NHTSA's safety video on keyless ignition systems for basic safety tips.

Palm Beach, Florida Took Action

From 2012-2014, seven deaths occurred in Palm Beach, Florida due to cars that people did not turn off and succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning in their residences. It is thought that since this is a retirement community that older people had more problems remembering to make sure they had killed their engine.

The problem was bad enough the Palm Beach County Sheriff made a video addressing the issue:

Bottom Line

Wherever you park your vehicle, make sure it is in park, especially with newer transmissions that have a button to engage park, instead of actually shifting into the park position.

Get in the habit of setting your parking brake every single time you park. Even if you do not have the car in the proper park position, this will prevent roll aways.

Lastly, make sure the engine is off. There should be no lights on the dash if the car is turned off. If your radio is still on, there is a good chance the engine is, too. Listen for the engine sound or check the tachometer, and to be sure, press your accelerator pedal to see if your engine revs before exiting the car.