The New York Times reports that proximity keys may have an unintended and deadly side effect: carbon monoxide poisoning.
These so-called smart keys, which replaces the traditional car key, continuously transmits a radio signal and for as long as the fob is present, a car can be started with the touch of a button. Although it offers tremendous convenience (no need to fumble for car keys anymore and better theft deterrence), it does wean the habit of turning and removing a key to shut off the engine. Together with quieter engines, some drivers, particularly older ones, mistakenly think that the car has stopped running altogether the moment they step out of the vehicle.
This inadvertent act of leaving a continuously running vehicle in an enclosed garage causes a rise in carbon monoxide and as a result, has claimed the lives of at least 28 people and injured 45 others since 2006. Carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless, depriving the heart, brain, and other vital organs of oxygen. Victims are sometimes found with a cherry red rash, a symptom of carbon monoxide molecules attaching to red blood cells.
The report continuous on that while the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) has proposed regulation to warn or alert drivers that their cars were still running or shutting off the engine entirely, the rule is still under consideration. For now, carmakers have been incorporating these features voluntarily.
Yet, some carmakers are falling short. A quote from the report:
For now, regulators say they are relying on carmakers to incorporate such warning features voluntarily. But a survey of 17 car companies by The New York Times found that while some automakers go beyond the features recommended by the standards group, others fall short.
Safety measures have been a matter of contention among automakers, sometimes even internally. Toyota, for example, has a system of three audible signals outside the car, and one inside, to alert drivers getting out of a vehicle that the motor is still running. But when Toyota engineers determined that more effective warning signals were needed — like flashing lights or a unique tone — the company rejected the recommendation, according to testimony in a wrongful-death suit.
Toyota models, including Lexus, have figured in almost half of the carbon monoxide fatalities and injuries identified by The Times. Toyota says its keyless ignition system “meets or exceeds all relevant federal safety standards.”
Some automakers have designed newer models that alert drivers more insistently when the engine is left running — or that shut it off after a certain period. Ford’s keyless vehicles now have a feature that automatically turns off the engine after 30 minutes of idling if the key fob is not in the vehicle, the company said recently. (According to a federal lawsuit, Ford began introducing the feature in 2013.)
But many older vehicles have not been retrofitted to reduce the hazard, despite the modest expense of doing so. It cost General Motors US$5 per car to install the automatic shutoff in a 2015 recall, according to a G.M. report to the safety agency.This concern has attracted the attention of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) which proposed recommended practices to address “user-instigated errors” brought about by the keyless ignition in 2009.
The SAE recommended installing an externally audible or visual alert when all the doors are closed, the key fob is not present, and the engine is still running. If the engine automatically shuts off, the alerts won’t be necessary.
The same year, the NHTSA proposed a key fob rule that would require car manufacturers to provide additional internal and external warning beeps. In addition to protecting against rollaways, it said this would reduce “incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning.” Although it made no provision for an auto-shutoff function, an option that the SAE cited, the agency said its own proposal would be “more enforceable.”
Source: The New York Times