WASHINGTON—New Senate legislation introduced Feb. 22 aims to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning and rollaway accidents in vehicles with keyless push-button start.
The proposal by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Edward Markey, D-Mass., would force the National Highway Traffic Safety Association to issue regulations requiring automatic shut-off features and set a performance standard for powering down a vehicle when it's not in park mode. They say the nation's top auto safety agency has dragged its feet addressing the problem and that auto makers have not done enough to protect consumers.
Last May, a New York Times investigation identified 28 fatalities and 45 injuries since 2006 connected to carbon monoxide from keyless-ignition vehicles left running in a home garage. Smart-key technologies are standard equipment on 62 percent of new vehicles, according to consumer information website Edmunds.
The car recognizes a fob transmitting a radio-frequency ID signal when close by, allowing the doors to be opened and the car started with the push of a button. Because of quieter engines and no physical key, many people forget to shut off the engine or try to stop the engine while still in drive or neutral mode.
Since 2011, NHTSA has been considering a rule that would standardize the length of time someone must hold down the control button to shut off the engine and require more internal and external alerts when someone exits the vehicle while it's still running or not in the park setting.
The Protecting Americans from the Risks of Keyless Ignition Technology (PARK IT) Act goes further by requiring auto makers to include an automatic shut-off capability. In a letter to NHTSA Deputy/Acting Administrator Heidi King in May, the two senators suggested auto makers could install the shut-off feature for about $5 per vehicle. That's the amount General Motors said in a report to NHTSA in 2015 that it cost to retrofit an existing vehicle with automatic shut-off.
"NHTSA, our automobile safety cop on the beat, must ensure that novel transportation technologies help eradicate the auto safety challenges of the 20th century, not pose additional dangers in the 21st century," Markey said in a statement. "With deaths attributable to keyless ignitions mounting, it's time for NHTSA to set safety standards to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning and vehicle rollaways."
NHTSA, industry respond
NHTSA, in a statement, said its ongoing safety education efforts include keyless ignition systems.
"We prioritize safety in everything that we do, including in the agency's actions to address risks associated with keyless ignition systems," the agency said. "To help educate consumers, the agency produced an awareness campaign highlighting the proper way to operate vehicles with keyless ignition systems and providing drivers tips to prevent dangerous situations from occurring."
Most vehicles include warnings when the engine is left running, but they vary by intensity and type. Blumenthal and Markey praised GM and Ford Motor Co. for adding automatic shut-off in some models.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers issued this statement in response to the proposed legislation:
"Current keyless ignition system designs generally follow the recommended practices of the Society of Automotive Engineers, addressing operating logic, indication of vehicle ignition/control status and the physical control characteristics of keyless ignition systems. SAE recommendations also focus on uniform labeling to help provide consumers with a better understanding of how keyless systems function."
Federal safety standards already address brake transmission shift interlocks, it added.