Keyless ignition systems blamed for 13 deaths nationwide


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Keyless ignition systems can be found in millions of cars around the country, and Target 12 has learned this technology is being blamed for thirteen deaths nationwide.

A class action lawsuit filed against ten car manufacturers claims keyless ignitions can be deadly, and drivers need to be warned. The suit says drivers are accidentally walking away from their cars while they’re still running, in some cases leading to carbon monoxide poisoning.

With a keyless fob, drivers don’t need a key to open the door or turn on the engine. As long as the fob is nearby, they just press a button and the car is on. This goes against a habit that many people have been used to for years: using metal keys to turn on and shut off our cars.

“You’re used to having that key,” said Amy Newman of Cumberland, now a keyless car owner. “It’s sort of your anchor.”

“You just have to have the key with you,” added keyless car owner David Caruso. “And you push the button and poof, it starts.”

Over the past several months, the Target 12 Investigators have heard from dozens of viewers with keyless ignition cars. Many tell us they’ve accidentally left their vehicle running for hours.

“Even to this day, I will get out of my car and I’ll be thinking about it in my house – ‘did I turn the car off?’” said Newman.

According to a class action lawsuit filed against ten automakers, the mistake of leaving a car running has turned fatal for many drivers with keyless ignitions. The suit claims there have been thirteen documented deaths and many more serious injuries from carbon monoxide poisoning after drivers parked their cars inside their garages, not realizing the engines were still running.

Just this past summer, a Chicago couple died from carbon monoxide poisoning after accidentally leaving their car running in the garage. The key fob was found in the victim’s purse inside the house.

We reached out to the family of that Chicago couple. While they didn’t want to be interviewed on camera, through their attorney they simply told us: “a consequence for a consumer mistake… shouldn’t be death.”

“The auto industry has done a very poor job on making the interface safe for consumers,” said auto safety expert Sean Kane.

Kane says the key to solving the problem is easy: equip cars with an automatic shut off if they’re left running. The Target 12 Investigators learned some Ford and General Motors vehicles come with an automatic shutoff feature, while some other car manufacturers have audible alarms which beep when drivers exit the car with the engine still on.

However, Kane says that’s not enough.

“As soon as you close the door you can’t hear it, and the background noise prevents you knowing that the alert is going off,” he said.

Some cars have no warning at all. Caruso said that’s the case with his 2010 Nissan Altima, telling Target 12 he’s accidentally left it running numerous times.

“I’ve owned it since 2010, and I’d say at least a dozen,” said Caruso.

The lawsuit claims that “even though an auto off feature can be implemented without significant effort or cost, the automakers have refused to act.”

We contacted all 10 companies named in the lawsuit. Only Ford commented, saying:

“The keyless ignition system has proven to be a safe and reliable innovative feature that has been well-received by customers. Ford vehicles equipped with keyless ignition alert drivers when the driver’s door is opened and the vehicle’s engine is running.”

The remaining auto makers – Toyota, Nissan, Honda, BMW, Volkswagen, Bentley, Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai and Kia – did not comment.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says they’re reviewing a rule that could require an automatic shutoff for keyless ignition cars. A decision is expected by February.

In the meantime, if you have a car with a keyless ignition, make sure you have carbon monoxide detectors inside your garage and in your home. It could save your life.

>>Our sister station WPRI first reported this story

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