The daughters of a Brevard County woman were rudely awakened to the dangers of vehicles with keyless ignitions after discovering their mother had died due to carbon monoxide poisoning. The woman, whose car had a keyless ignition, had accidentally left her vehicle running in her garage, filling her home with the lethal, odorless gas.
Now the daughters of the woman are fighting back against the carmaker with a lawsuit, insisting they knew the dangers that keyless ignition vehicles pose and should have implemented safety measures. Although the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had issued warnings about the dangers of keyless ignition vehicles as early as 2011, legislation and technology have not caught up to the NHTSA’s probe. As a result, the number of deaths attributed to keyless ignition carbon monoxide poisoning has risen.
Here are proposed solutions raised by consumers, regulatory agencies, and lawsuits, in order to prevent another tragedy like the death of Barbara Russell in Melbourne:
Dashboard Warning Label
Among the simplest of solutions that the NHTSA proposed is a warning label on the dashboard. The purpose of the warning label is to explain to consumers how to shut off the engine, and to ensure they understand that their vehicle will not automatically shut-off after they leave. However, manufacturers have resisted adopting warning labels for their vehicles, potentially putting consumers at risk.
Key Fob Warning Alarm
The NHTSA has also proposed a mandatory audible alert to warn drivers if their key fob is removed from the car while the engine is still running. The standard suggested by the NHTSA is a sharp alert of at least 85 decibels — comparable to the sound of a smoke alarm — so that the driver would be able to hear the alarm from both inside and outside of the vehicle. This would allow the driver to then turn off their car if they had accidentally left it running, preventing potential carbon monoxide poisoning.
However, some automakers have pushed back against what they consider to be a nuisance, stating the alerts are loud and disruptive. Nissan said as much in public comment in 2012. Some brands, including Ford, GM, Honda, Toyota, and Nissan, have adopted some form of audible alerts, but none meet the standards proposed by the NHTSA, meaning consumers are still potentially at risk.
Automatic Engine Shut-off System
Another solution, one which is called for by plaintiffs in a California class action against various automakers, is for vehicles with keyless ignition features to be equipped with an automatic engine shut-off system. The vehicle would shut off after idling for a specified period of time. This would greatly reduce the risk for instances where a person dies due to carbon monoxide poisoning as a result of a running car in their garage. However, counter-arguments have emerged regarding the safety of an automatic shutdown system; the NHTSA itself raises a point of concern regarding pets being left in a car with the air conditioning or heating system on, only for the car to shut-off automatically after a certain period of time idling.
Regardless of which proposal automakers choose to follow, regulatory agencies and consumers alike are vocal in their demand for a solution to well-known keyless ignition dangers like carbon monoxide poisoning. It is up to the manufacturers and the NHTSA to establish safe and reasonable guidelines around future vehicles, and to educate consumers about the risks of current vehicles with keyless ignition features, in order to prevent another senseless death.