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The Hidden Danger of Keyless Cars

| May 17, 2018


A top official at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was recently challenged at a Senate hearing over the agency’s inaction to prevent carbon-monoxide deaths from keyless vehicles.

The official, Heidi King, speaking at a hearing on her nomination to head the agency, would not commit to following through on a regulation proposed in 2011 to address keyless-vehicle hazards. The rule would force automakers to install features that assertively alert motorists that a vehicle has not been turned off.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, pressed Ms. King to treat the lack of such features as a design flaw, to complete the rule-making process and to raise awareness about the problem.

The issue was raised after The New York Times reported this week that at least 28 people had died of carbon-monoxide poisoning in their homes since 2006 after inadvertently leaving a keyless vehicle running in a garage. With quieter engines and the lost reflex of turning a mechanical key, some drivers — especially older ones — may neglect to notice that the car has not been shut off.

A leading standards group recommended regulatory steps, like requiring specified audible warnings, to alert drivers getting out of a car that the motor was still running. Such a warning would guard against theft and rollaways, as well as the gas hazard.

When the safety agency proposed such a rule in 2011, it said it could be carried out in new cars with a software modification that would cost the industry pennies per vehicle. General Motors has retrofitted some of its cars with such a feature, an adjustment requiring a half-hour of labor.

Sean Kane, an auto-safety advocate who has tracked the regulator’s investigations and policies for 25 years, said the failure to pursue the inquiry was a crucial missed opportunity to address hazards linked to keyless-ignition vehicles, including carbon-monoxide poisoning. “The agency was willing to turn a blind eye to the bigger problem,” said Mr. Kane, who has advised plaintiffs’ lawyers in some of the carbon-monoxide cases. “We have a keyless-ignition system that operates in a manner that the consumer doesn’t understand, and that leads to deaths and injuries.”

As for the rule proposed in 2011, the safety agency says it is still collecting comment.

Category: Featured, News, Safety

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