The introduction of the keyless ignition began as a luxury in Mercedes-Benz vehicles before the turn of the century, but has become rather common in vehicles of various makes and models. The convenience lies in not having to fumble for the key. Instead, drivers are armed with key fobs that transmit radio signals. When the fob is near or in the car, a driver can simply push a button to start the engine.
But without needing to physically remove a key (coupled with the quieter engines of today), drivers often find themselves leaving the car while the engine idles — mistakenly thinking that the car is turned off. Such incidents have caused countless deaths and injuries as running vehicles spew carbon monoxide into garages and houses as people sleep. Since the gas is odorless, most don’t even realize they are being poisoned.
There are no solid regulations in place that would require automakers to incorporate some kind of warning feature into cars with keyless ignitions. Some have toyed with the idea of alarms or flashing lights that alert a driver that the car is still on. Others propose having the car turn off automatically after sitting idle for a certain period of time. According to The New York Times, a simple software change that costs next to nothing could do the trick. But faced with auto industry opposition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “let the plan languish, though it says a rule is still under consideration.”
The Times “identified 28 deaths and 45 injuries since 2006” related to keyless ignitions, but it estimates that those numbers are low. No federal agency tracks such deaths and injuries, so the real number is unknown.
Older drivers are more vulnerable since they are not as accustomed to living with the conveniences of keyless ignitions. Until regulations force automakers to incorporate some kind of fail-safe into cars with fobs, people should use caution when leaving their vehicles.