A Great Technology – Keyless Ignition Systems Have Their Dangers


The root cause of keyless ignition problems lies in our deep-seated relationships with cars. Our daily routines and habits are what we use to get into our cars, start the engine, adjust the mirrors, or fasten the seatbelt. Our old habits are no longer relevant with keyless entry or keyless ignition. Some people are having problems with their cars because of these long-standing behaviors. These problems are increasing as more car manufacturers adopt this type of technology. NTHSA is investigating ways to reduce the problem and ensure safety.

A keyless ignition device is a device carried by the driver in order to gain entry to the vehicle as well as the ability to turn the engine on. A small chip in the key fob transmits a signal to its computer, allowing the driver to access the engine’s starting system without having to touch it. To start the car, the driver can push a button or turn on a switch. As car manufacturers see the potential of adding keyless ignitions to their fleet, they are increasingly popular.

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Recent news stories involving death or injury have brought more attention to the issues drivers face with these new systems.

Florida’s Palm Beach County Sheriff’s office is investigating the deaths of a couple last week from carbon monoxide poisoning. The couple was believed to have died due to carbon monoxide buildup in their Mercedes with keyless ignition that was parked in an attached garage. In the meantime, the sheriff’s office declined to comment.

Miami-Dade Police responded this week to a call from fire rescue and Miami-Dade Police. Neighbors claim that a car was found running in the garage and that two elderly women lived in the house. Police arrived at the scene to find a woman dead from carbon monoxide poisoning. The garage apparently had allowed the gas into the home. Because it has a hyperbaric chamber that can treat carbon monoxide poisoning victims, the other woman was taken to St. Mary’s Medical Center Palm Beach. She is now stable.

The cause of the latest incident is not yet known. Although the cause of the accident remains under investigation, the model and age of the vehicle are not yet available. However, it highlights the dangers associated with forgetting to turn the ignition off.

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Keyless systems can also cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Federal Manufacturer Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS 114) stipulate that a driver can’t remove a vehicle key without turning off the engine and putting the automatic transmission in Park. This protection is almost non-existent with keyless entry systems. Some warn drivers that the key is missing and that the transmission is not in Park. However, warnings can be inconsistently effective, which has led to complaints to NHTSA such as this one about a 2006 Audi A6.

During their extensive investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, (NHTSA), they received many personal accounts about accidents and injuries that were experienced by those who had this technology.

One driver had the vehicle pull him down, grab his foot, and drag him over a curb. The vehicle ended up on his right foot, trapping him. A number of men helped to lift the vehicle off. Despite having shut off the engine, he failed to park the transmission before getting out of the vehicle.

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has set new standards for how to operate and control the engine that does not require a physical key. A driver who attempts to stop the propulsion systems without moving the gear selection controller to the park position should be warned. If a driver attempts exiting a vehicle without turning off its engine, the alarm will sound.

The proposed change would also standardize how long drivers would need to hold down the button to start or stop the engine. The switch that shuts off the vehicle would have to work regardless of whether it is moving at speed.

The driver must hold down the button for three seconds to stop the engine from speeding. Many drivers don’t know this hold the button requirement.

This rule proposes to modify the control activation for all stops, regardless of whether the vehicle moves or is stationary.

The proposed rule change would allow for the installation of an audible warning system. This will alert the driver if the door is opened while the engine runs. Also, it will warn the driver when the vehicle is being parked.

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The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), created the Keyless Ignition Subcommittee, which is a subcommittee of Controls and Displays Committee. It has been working since early 2009 to create an SAE Recommended Practice to standardize keyless ignition systems.

These new provisions would help consumers to be more clear about the controls, and lessen the chance of injuries or deaths. According to the NHTSA, based on the Society of Automotive Engineers (Recommended practice) report, the cost of implementing these requirements would be minimal or negligible. They are already part the electronic system so only a modification would be required to make it complete.