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The Dangers of Keyless Cars: How Convenience Has Caused Dozens of Injuries & Deaths


Keyless cars may have once been the makings of science fiction, but today are common features in numerous types of newer model motor vehicles. While keyless cars allow owners to power their vehicles on and off at the push of a button, rather than by the mechanical turning of a physical key, this convenience may not be as innocent as it seems.

Unfortunately, keyless cars pose significant safety risks when it comes to carbon monoxide poisoning. In fact, statistics show that keyless-ignition vehicles have been implicated in more than two dozen carbon monoxide deaths nationwide since 2006, as well as numerous injuries and cases of permanent brain damage. Many cases of carbon monoxide poisoning and death are linked to motorists who mistakenly believe their vehicles are off, only to have actually left them running, often in closed spaces.

Keyless ignitions are now a standard featured in over half of the 17 million new cars and trucks sold each year in the U.S. Rather than requiring drivers to carry a physical key, keyless ignitions are operated using a fob which transmits a radio signal to start and stop a vehicle. As long as the fob is present, a vehicle can be started with just the touch of a button.

While many see these features as a convenient innovation, they have been found to wean drivers from the habit of manually turning and removing a key to shut off their vehicle’s motor. As a result, many drivers can be lulled by newer and quieter engines into mistakenly thinking they have stopped running. Because carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas, many victims don’t know they’re inhaling a toxin that can deprive the brain, heart, and other vital organs of oxygen, which can cause, if not death, serious lasting impairment such as brain damage.

The Push for Better Regulations

In the wake of many documented cases of carbon monoxide poisoning, including those involving vehicles that were left running in garages overnight while owners slept inside as deadly gasses flooded their homes, many experts and regulators have called for measures to address the problem. This includes calls for features such as a series of beeps to alert drivers that cars are still running without a key fob in or near the car or an automatic engine-shut off. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed a federal law based on these ideas, stating that software changes to keyless-ignition vehicles would cost only pennies per vehicle. However, the auto industry has opposed the proposed law, causing the rule to stagnate, though it is still under consideration.

Without a law compelling the auto industry to take steps that can protect consumers, regulators must rely on automakers to take it upon themselves. Unfortunately, a survey conducted by the New York Times found that many automakers fall short in including recommended safety features to warn drivers about running vehicles or automatically shut off the engine after a certain period of parked idling time. Even when some steps are taken, such as Toyota implementing a system of three alert signals, automakers are often reluctant to implement better and more effective warnings, such as flashing lights and unique tones, or retrofit older models with updated features, even though they know they could potentially save lives. There’s a real toll accompanied by that reluctance. For example, Toyota (including Lexus) has been implicated in nearly half of the carbon monoxide deaths and injuries identified by the New York Times.

Moving Forward to Protect the Public

Overall, the numbers on carbon monoxide injuries and deaths involving keyless-ignition vehicles are hard to come by, as no federal agency keeps comprehensive records. However, the Times did find that through 2016, the NHTSA has investigated only four cases of death related to the issues. That’s compared to the 28 deaths and 45 injuries since 2006 potentially linked to the problem as identified by the newspaper’s investigative journalists.

Moving forward, experts say the trend of injuries and death will likely continue until changes are implemented on a widescale – something that will probably need to be compelled by regulation, tougher laws, and prospective civil penalties. Until then, powerful automakers will continue to settle cases with little concern for the public at large.

Victims & Families Can Make Their Voices Heard

As with many issues involving public safety, laws and regulations are critical in compelling corporations to take the right steps in making their products safer for the consumers who use them. Unfortunately, those same corporations often prioritize profits over people, and commonly fight against the implementation of new safety rules in order to protect their bottom line, even if those safety rules are known to save lives.

As a result of this carelessness and prioritization of profits over people, which is unfortunately not uncommon, ensuring public safety and raising awareness about the need for better regulations and designs often comes down to victims and families who make their voices heard in civil personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits. As a personal injury law firm that fights for the injured and the wronged, we believe in the power of these lawsuits to not only ensure victims and families recover the compensation they deserve, but to also hold product manufacturers accountable, and spark needed changes that protect the public at large from preventable harm.

Levinson Axelrod, P.A. has cultivated a reputation for protecting the rights of victims and families across New Jersey and beyond, including those who have suffered harm and losses due to defective products and motor vehicles. If you wish to discuss a potential case, our team is readily available to help. Contact us to request a free case review.

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