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Keyless Ignitions Linked to Numerous Injuries & Deaths, Auto Industry Slow to Protect Consumers

By: Allan M. Siegel

For many motorists on the road, the thought of being able to start your vehicle with the touch of a button was something reserved for science fiction. Today, it’s a standard and popular feature in numerous new-model cars and trucks. While it may be a nice convenience and appeal to our fascination with futuristic advancements, keyless-ignitions are not as simple or safe as they may seem. In fact, they’ve been tied to numerous injuries and deaths across the U.S. for over a decade.

As reported by the New York Times, keyless ignitions pose serious risks when it comes to carbon monoxide exposure. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas fatal to humans. When inhaled, especially over a period of time, the toxic fumes can cause headaches, dizziness, vomiting, and chest pain, and may cause victims to lose consciousness or stop breathing. Even in cases where victims do not die as a result of exposure, they can suffer long-term and debilitating disabilities, including permanent brain damage.

Here are a few important findings from the Times’ investigative report:

  • Keyless ignitions have been associated with more than two dozen fatalities involving carbon monoxide poisoning nationwide since 2006.
  • The NYT found evidence of nearly 50 injuries, including severe brain damage, associated with keyless-ignition vehicles between 2006 and 2016.
  • Keyless ignitions are a standard feature in more than half of 17+ million new model vehicles produced in the U.S. annually.

Because keyless ignitions utilize key fobs rather than physical keys that require manual turning, they can start and stop engines with the push of a button, as long as the key fob is inside or close to the vehicle. This system causes many motorists to not notice when their car may still be running, a problem often compounded by the fact that newer cars have quieter engines. As a result, many reports of injury and death involved vehicle owners who mistakenly thought their cars were off, left them in enclosed spaces (such as a garage), and were exposed to toxic fumes in their homes and / or while they slept.

Need for Better Safety Features

The numbers of injuries and deaths associated with keyless ignitions have given way to increased efforts by advocates and regulators who want to prevent them. This includes safety features such as alert sounds which notify vehicle owners when an engine is still running, and updates that can automatically turn an engine off it is has been idling for too long. In fact, the NHTSA used these features to create standards for the auto industry in a bill it proposed to lawmakers.

Unfortunately, the auto industry has been aggressive in fighting the measure, and the initiative has since stalled. This is despite experts and regulators reporting that such measures can save lives, and that they are inexpensive to implement, with software updates costing automakers just pennies per vehicle.

Profits Over People: How it Creates Dangers for Consumers

As we have discussed at length in many of our blog posts, this corporate focus on profits rather than people and public safety is not uncommon. It happens all the time, in the auto and trucking industry, consumer product industry, and the medical industry. Because these corporations care more about saving on costs and cutting expenses than they do about implementing safety changes proven to save lives, they send a clear message that injuries and deaths will likely continue until they are forced to “do the right thing” by stricter laws, better regulatory oversight, and the threat of fines, violations, and civil penalties when they don’t comply.

Until that happens, which can take time as corporations commonly lobby politicians to support their agendas, consumers (and especially older drivers used to older manual ignitions) still face risks when it comes to potential carbon monoxide poisoning caused by their keyless-ignition vehicles. This often means victims and families who do step forward to assert their rights and file civil lawsuits (such as personal injury or wrongful death suits) against automakers have cases that not only provide them with an opportunity to secure justice and compensation for their losses, but to also raise awareness about these dangers, muster the support to prompt new laws, and spark changes that can prevent others from becoming statistics in a pattern of preventable harm.

At Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. we continually show that we’re dedicated to protecting everyday Americans in their fight for justice after being harmed by the negligent and careless acts of others – even if the defendants they face off against are powerful and wealthy corporations. We also make it clear our clients have tragic stories that can very well become the stories of other victims and families when no action is taken to correct unsafe and unacceptable practices, and fight aggressively to play a role in helping build upon that message and the fight for needed change.

If you have questions regarding your rights after suffering preventable injuries or losing a loved one due to negligence, please do not hesitate to call (202) 644-8303 or contact us online. We offer free and confidential consultations, and proudly serve clients throughout Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC.