Keyless entry systems work by allowing drivers to start their cars with the push of a button when the car senses that the key fob is nearby. However, it is not always clear how and when to turn the cars off.
California attorney Chris Spagnoli from the firm of Greene, Broillet & Wheeler is currently involved in a suit against Toyota and a deadly case of carbon monoxide poisoning.
“One case in New York that I am currently working on involves a lawyer and his girlfriend,” says Spagnoli. “He died and she was horribly brain damaged. There is another case in Chicago recently and there are some deaths in Florida. It is becoming a big problem.”
Many of the new vehicles equipped with keyless entry systems run so quietly that people don’t realize the car is still running. Or they mistakenly believe it is going to shut off by itself.
“People forget to shut their vehicles off when they pull into their garage,” explains Spagnoli. “They put the vehicle in park and get out and don’t realize, because there is no key that they have to push to shut off the engine.
“The owners of these cars get out of the vehicle, go into the house and the car keeps running. The carbon monoxide either seeps into the house or they walk into the garage sometime later and they are overcome by the carbon monoxide fumes.”
There are an estimated 5 million keyless entry cars on the road in the United States. Key entry systems have been linked to at least 13 deaths by carbon monoxide poisoning.
In August, 10 big automakers including Ford, GM, Hyundai, Nissan, Volkswagen, BMW, Chrysler Fiat, Daimler, Honda and Toyota had suits filed against them in carbon monoxide poisoning cases.
“It is one of these things where the more keyless ignition vehicles are out there, the more we are going to see these cases. Some manufacturers have automatic shutoffs and the vehicle will shut down automatically if the key is not present. Some have buzzers or audible noises that sound when you open the vehicle door and you have not shut off the engine by pushing the button,” says Spagnoli.
The problem is that many don’t have any warning systems or do not shut off automatically.
In 2011, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed a new rule and asked for comments on ways to get to train people to turn their keyless entry cars off. Four years later there is still no change.
“There were comments but there has been no action, and there have been injuries and deaths during that time,” says Spagnoli.
Lawsuits may get the attention of the industry.