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The poisonous problem with keyless ignition vehicles

There’s no debating the fact that automobiles have become much safer in recent decades. New technologies not only make cars more fuel-efficient; they also help drivers avoid crashes. And when crashes do occur, they tend to be less fatal than they would have been in the past.

But some new automobile technologies – especially those meant to simply increase convenience – come with hidden dangers. A good example is the keyless ignition feature now available on many new cars. These systems allow the car to be turned on with the push of a button as long as the key fob is detected by sensors in the vehicle. While this technology is certainly convenient, most systems do not come equipped with automatic shut-off when the fob is no longer detected. As a result, drivers of these vehicles may be at higher risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.

According to a recent news article, there have been at least 18 confirmed deaths linked to carbon monoxide poisoning in keyless ignition vehicles. Six people were killed in this manner in 2015 alone. In many cases, cars were inadvertently left running in garage attached to victims’ homes. An unknown number of additional victims have survived, but were left with injuries that included brain damage.

The fact that keyless ignition cars can accidentally be left running was perhaps an oversight that automakers could not have predicted. But the fix should be an easy one. In fact, some believe that a software update could solve the problem in both new vehicles and ones which have already been purchased. Two proposed fixes include an auto-shut-off feature if the fob is no longer detected near the vehicle, and an audible alarm if the vehicle senses that the fob is moving away.

But here’s where the story becomes particularly frustrating. Car companies and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have known about this problem for years. Yet the miniscule amount of progress being made is moving at a snail’s pace. The NHTSA filed a notice of proposed rule making in December 2011. A final rule is not expected until February of 2016, and any rule passed would only apply to new vehicles.

In an attempt to solve the problem more quickly, attorneys have filed a class action lawsuit in California against 10 automakers.

Until or unless changes are made, Americans who own keyless ignition vehicles need to understand the risks they pose. Please ensure that you always turn off your vehicle before leaving it parked.

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