Keyless ignition dangers addressed by proposed rule
Keyless ignition systems would alert drivers who leave their vehicles without turning them off or putting them in park under a rule proposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The rule would also standardize engine shut-off procedures for moving and stationary vehicles. The Institute supports the proposal but is asking the agency to make the regulation slightly more stringent.
Vehicles with keyless ignitions generally have a fob or other device with codes that can unlock the doors and start the vehicle. With the device somewhere in the occupant compartment, the driver simply pushes a button or turns a switch to start the vehicle. The systems are becoming increasingly common because of their convenience, but they can confuse drivers, resulting in dangerous situations.
In one complaint to NHTSA, a driver wrote of being dragged through a parking lot after trying to get back in a car that had started rolling away because it wasn't in park. The car eventually came to a stop on the driver's foot, and a group of bystanders had to lift it off.
Other drivers reported being awakened by their home carbon monoxide detectors when they inadvertently left their cars running in attached garages. Some people have died of carbon monoxide poisoning in such situations, according to media accounts.
NHTSA also is concerned that drivers don't know how to shut off a moving vehicle in an emergency – for example, if the accelerator becomes stuck. Many systems require the button to be pressed for a longer period than normal in order to turn off a moving vehicle.
To address these issues, NHTSA has proposed standardizing keyless ignition systems so that they all shut down after a half-second hold of the power button, whether or not the vehicle is moving. The proposal also calls for a loud warning to sound if a driver gets out of the vehicle without putting it in park. The warning would sound until the situation is corrected. A one-second warning would sound if the driver gets out, taking the key fob, without turning off the vehicle.
In a comment submitted to NHTSA, the Institute expressed support for the proposed rule and called for more research to determine what kind of difficulties drivers are having with the systems. It also suggested requiring a half-second push of the button for startup as well as for shutdown in order to reinforce for drivers how the systems work and thus make the shutdown procedure more familiar. The Institute also recommended adding a visual alert to supplement the audible warning when the driver fails to put the vehicle in park and requiring a more frequent or distinctive alert if the driver leaves the vehicle while it is still running.
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