A recent New York Times report found more than two dozen people have died from carbon monoxide poisoning after forgetting to turn off their engines, a result of keyless ignition systems that don’t warn if an engine is left running.
In most cases, the deaths were caused by a vehicle presumed to be off either due to a quiet engine or because the key was removed from the car. Owners then go inside their house to sleep, not knowing that the car is on and carbon monoxide builds up in the garage and then leeches into the entire house, The New York Times reported.
A class action lawsuit was filed in 2015 related to keyless ignitions, after 13 people died. The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed, but not before GM recalled 64,000 Chevy Volts and updated software to limit the time a vehicle can be left turned on, according to GM Authority.
The Times report stresses that older drivers who are accustomed to cars with keys are particularly vulnerable to thinking a keyless car has been turned off. They are used to thinking that a key removed from a vehicle means the vehicle is off, but only certain keyless ignition cars automatically shut off. Hybrid cars with silent engines are particularly a point of confusion.
Toyota car models, including Lexus cars, were responsible for about half of all deaths and injuries as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning from keyless vehicles. Toyota says its vehicles are complying with or exceeding the required safety standards, the Times reported.
Digital Trends received a response about the issue from The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, sent on behalf of the Department of Transportation.
“Safety is always NHTSA’s first priority. We know from extensive research that most automotive fatalities are caused by human decisions and errors. We are committed to continuing our programs to inform and educate the public to make safer choices.”
Keyless ignition systems started as a feature in Mercedes-Benz vehicles in Germany. They came to the United States in 2002. Soon after, the first deaths occurred when a 70-year-old woman collapsed and died at home after leaving her keyless Toyota Avalon running in the garage. Her 89-year-old husband died in bed after carbon monoxide seeped through the home, the Times reported.