Keyless Ignitions: Boon or Bane?

The coolness factor of having a keyless ignition system in your car—the kind that appears close to magic and may leave you wondering, “How’d they do that?”—is significant. A keyless ignition is one of an increasing number of “smart key” or “smart access” systems available on cars these days. It’s clear that keyed cars are yesterday’s news, because keyless ignitions are standard for 245 automotive models now. The days of keyless ignition being limited to luxury cars are past.

Such keyless systems allow you to push a button to start the car rather than using an “old school” key that you insert. What happens is that the small device you carry with you—known as a key fob—communicates automatically with a computer in the car when it comes within a certain distance range, sending a coded signal. This signal, if it matches the code in your car’s computer, activates a number of automotive systems, including the one for ignition, allowing you simply to push a button to start your car. If the key fob’s coded signal doesn’t match the computer in your car, pushing the start button will not allow someone to steal your car. In fact, making an attempt to do so may even activate an alarm.

But the security provisions that necessitate having the fob with you to start the car include no such provisions for stopping the engine. The fob has no role to play when it comes to turning off the car, as opposed to the traditional keyed system that entails removing the key. And this flaw has led to a surprising number of deaths.

Deadly Invisible Gas

Carbon monoxide (CO) is the reason that people have been dying. What happens is the driver exits the car, leaving it in their garage with the engine still operating. A lot of systems don’t even have an alarm to alert you of the fact. The CO, which is odorless, seeps into the house attached to the garage, eventually killing those inside. The car’s engine will continue running until it runs out of gas. And, as ABC News demonstrated, CO levels inside the garage become lethal after only a few hours.

Because of 13 deaths attributable to such incidents, a class action suit has been filed, claiming that the risk of CO poisoning had been concealed by 10 automakers which produce cars with keyless ignitions. It is alleged that the carmakers have known of the danger for years, but have done little about it. One of the lead lawyers, Martis Alex, asked recently, “If they can put auto-off on your interior lights to save you an inconvenience, why can’t we put auto-off on the engine to save your life?”

Forewarned is Forearmed

Some carmakers use an audible alert so that you won’t leave the car running. But installing such an alert in vehicles is not mandatory. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been trying to make alert systems obligatory, but automakers have lodged objections, calling the proposed volume of the alerts “much too loud.”

Is your vehicle on the list? Automakers currently using audible alerts with keyless ignition are:

  • Ford
  • GM
  • Honda
  • Hyundai
  • Mazda
  • Mitsubishi
  • Nissan
  • Subaru
  • Toyota

The following automakers do not use audible alerts with keyless ignition:

  • Chrysler
  • Land Rover
  • Mercedes-Benz
  • Volkswagen
  • Volvo

If you have a keyless ignition system in your vehicle, always make sure that the engine is turned off when you exit the car—press the button! And, of course, never ignore any alarm or alert you might hear.

Listening hard. Working harder.

The Louthian Law Firm has represented injured South Carolinians in personal injury suits since 1959. With our firm on the case, you can rest assured that you’ll receive the personalized attention you deserve. If you or a loved one have been seriously injured in an auto accident, it’s important to make sure that you understand your legal rights. Defective auto cases require a thorough investigation by an experienced legal team to determine which individuals and companies should be named as defendants and which legal theories should be pursued. South Carolina law can be complex, and there is a deadline for filing a claim. As the initial consultation is always free, reach out to us today by calling our toll-free number at (803) 454-1200, or by filling out our online contact form.