Keyless Ignitions Can Kill

Everyone enjoys the convenience of keyless ignition systems. More than 50% of new cars sold today have them. Unfortunately, as convenient as they are, they also create new and serious risks, particularly in a northern climate like Anchorage where we are more prone to leaving our vehicle running to warm it up or keep it warm during the cold winter months.

There has been an increase in deaths nationwide caused by carbon monoxide poisoning from inadvertently leaving keyless ignition cars running in the garage after getting home. Apparently, the habit of turning off the ignition with a key and removing it is changed by the convenience of having a keyless ignition. Drivers, especially older drivers, accustomed to the standard key ignition, sometimes park their cars and get out of them, forgetting that they have to manually turn it off even though there is no key in the ignition. When they do this at home, in the garage, or near an air intake duct for a garage, the consequences can be deadly.

The New York Times has reported that more than 24 people nationwide have been killed by carbon monoxide poisoning after inadvertently leaving their keyless ignition vehicle running in a garage after arriving home. They also report that dozens of others have been injured and left with brain damage:

This danger has been known since Mercedes-Benz introduced the first keyless ignition system back in 1998. Unfortunately there are no regulations in place to require car manufacturers to make sure keyless ignition systems are safe from this risk. Countless times, drivers with keyless ignition systems leave the vehicle while it is running. Sometimes they leave the key fob in the vehicle, other times they take it with them. Car manufacturers unfortunately have not adopted a system to warn the driver that they have left the car running or to automatically turn off the car once the driver leaves the vehicle running, with or without the key in the vehicle. As a result, sometimes drivers leave the vehicles running when they exit their vehicles upon arriving at home in their garage. The closing garage door masks the sound of the running engine.  The carbon monoxide fills the garage and then begins to fill their house, often with deadly or disastrous results.

As reported by the New York Times: “On a summer morning last year, Fred Schaub drove his Toyota Rav4 into the garage attached to his Florida home and went into the house with the wireless key fob, believing the car was shut off. 29 hours later he was found dead, overcome with carbon monoxide that flooded his home while he slept. "After 75 years of driving, my father thought that when he took the key with him when he left the car, the car would be off," said Mr. Schaub’s son, Doug."

“A bad dream woke Michael Sobik on October 8, 2015, at his home in Miramar beach, Florida. The smell of fumes filled his nostrils and he looked up at his wife, Jamie, realizing his motor skills were slow. Car fumes and carbon monoxide emitted from Mrs. Sobik’s Lexus had filled the garage overnight and flooded the home. They were overcome by nausea as their blood cells were starved of oxygen. Mr. Sobik stumbled through the house to the garage and was knocked by a rush of fumes. He opened the garage door and went back into the house. Mrs. Sobik had fallen out of bed in an attempt to stand up. “I couldn’t breathe, I was gasping,” she said, recalling that her husband shouted at her to get outside. “The next thing you know he is dragging me onto the grass.” Disoriented and vomiting she asked if they were about to die. “I remember the fear in telling her no, because I didn’t know," Mr. Sobik said. When fire marshals arrived, the gas reading inside the house was 80 times the tolerable level for humans. The Sobiks now live with severe brain injuries."

These incidents came to the attention of the Society of Automotive Engineers, and more than nine years ago they recommended that the government and the automobile manufacturers adopt safety standards to address these hazards. Unfortunately, this has not happened yet. While some manufacturers have audible warnings when drivers leave the car running with or without the key in the car, and a few have an automatic shut off feature, no industry standard has been adopted, and these deaths and injuries continue to mount.

While we wait for the government and car manufacturers to take appropriate action, you can take actions to protect yourself. First, try to always remember to turn off your vehicle immediately upon arriving home, whether you park inside or outside of a garage.  Second, consider installing a carbon monoxide detector inside your house as close as possible to the entry door from the garage.

Please pass this information on to your friends and family. Just reading this will cause us all to be more aware, and safer!

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