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Keyless ignition systems may be a simple way to turn on a car, but their simplicity can be deadly. Over the years, they have led to multiple injuries and deaths, resulting in an increased number of product liability lawsuits.  

Once a key fob sends a wireless code to the car to turn on, it doesn’t matter whether that smart key remains inside the car. Vehicles can continue to run if the driver parks and doesn’t turn them off, leaving carbon monoxide, a deadly, colorless, odorless, and poisonous gas to silently seep from a closed garage into a house.  

“It just seeps through any crack and crevice it can find and starts filling up the house,” said Milette Webber, an attorney with Newsome Melton with a specialty in carbon monoxide poisoning cases. A few years ago, a client of hers woke up in the morning feeling ill. Unbeknownst to him, his Lexus had been running in the garage overnight, resulting in a house filled with dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. He woke his girlfriend and got her out of the house, but the damage was done. Both sustained permanent injuries, including brain damage. They were lucky as others exposed to similar levels of carbon monoxide never woke up. 

Since 2006, there have been at least 37 deaths caused by keyless ignition systems. This  number may be vastly higher because carbon monoxide poisoning involving keyless ignitions are not systematically categorized or tracked.

About half the cars sold in the U.S. each year now have keyless ignitions. 

Attorney Frank Melton said the keyless ignitions don’t account for human nature, especially in older drivers for whom taking the key out of the car meant it was off.  “You’re changing 40 to 50 years of driving history. Now when you step out of the vehicle, the vehicle can still be on.”

Although newer car models have an audible beep when the key is taken out and the car is still running, distracted drivers don’t always register the alarm. Quiet engines can also make it hard for people to hear the car is still running before they close the garage door and head into their homes.

Safety advocates have pushed legislation called PARK IT (Protecting Americans from the Risks of Keyless Ignition Technology), which would require that cars automatically shut off after a certain period of inactivity.  Some automakers, like GM and Ford, have included the automatic shutoff in certain models for years while others have been slower to act. In 2019 Toyota finally announced that it would include the shutoffs in most models starting in 2020.  While it is a step in the right direction, many older cars will not be changed or retrofitted with this well-known technology and the legislation has languished in the Senate Commerce Committee. While these vehicles technically meet the relevant federal safety standards, the potential dangers their keyless ignition systems pose remain. 

In addition to the keyless ignition issue, some drivers have suffered carbon monoxide poisoning from leaks that spilled toxic fumes into the driver’s compartment while driving.  For instance, several Ford Interceptors, a version of the Ford Explorer designed for law enforcement, have been involved in crashes and exhaust-related injuries. A Massachusetts officer lost consciousness at the wheel and crashed into a car. A California officer passed out and swerved across oncoming traffic before hitting a tree at 55-miles-per-hour.  And more than 60 Austin officers reported health problems, prompting the department to pull the Interceptors out of service until repairs were made. 

“These are serious cases. People are catastrophically inured,” Webber said. Until changes are made, people must be aware and do their best to take precautions. Double and triple checking to make sure your car is turned off and installing a carbon monoxide detector in your home are two very simple, but effective precautions.  Because of the severity of injuries resulting from carbon monoxide poisoning, damages can be significant and legal remedies are imperative to help victims and their families.   

If you have questions about this topic or need assistance filing a carbon monoxide claim, Newsome Melton can help. Contact us at 1-888-380-2809.