Silent Killer: The deadly threat of key-less cars

Dozens of people have been killed or suffered life-changing brain damage from carbon monoxide poisoning after failing to shut off the keyless ignition on their cars (stock image)

The deadly carbon monoxide toll of keyless cars: Calls for more safety regulations after at least 28 were killed and 25 injured by drivers accidentally leaving their motors running and their homes filling with fumes

Dozens of people have been killed or suffered life-changing brain damage from carbon monoxide poisoning after failing to shut off their keyless cars.

A new report, by the New York Times, has highlighted the dangers of keyless cars.

It found that, since 2006, at least 28 people have died and 45 were injured after they mistakenly left the engine running in the garage, allowing their home to fill with the deadly gas.

The elderly, many of whom has been driving for decades and are used to the loud rumble of an engine, were particularly at risk of forgetting to switch off the engines on their new, quieter cars.

Keyless ignition technology allows drivers to start their cars with the press of a button and enter the vehicle with an electronic fob which can remain in their purse or pocket.

It has been available since the 2000s and today, more than half of the 17 million new vehicles sold annually in the United States use keyless technology.

But with its introduction, has followed a number of associated deaths and injuries.

The Society of Automotive Engineers has been calling for safety regulations such as warning signals when the car engine is left on, but the key fob is removed, or a timed engine cut out when the fob is removed for more than 30 minutes.

Yet, while some manufacturers have been quick to adapt and introduce the measures, others have been reluctant.

Toyota vehicles, which includes Lexus, was involved in around half the keyless carbon monoxide related deaths.

They include the death of 70-year-old Florida woman, Jeanette Colter, who had failed to notice that she had left her Toyota Avalon running after she parked in the garage.

Both she, and her husband David, 89, died after their home filled with carbon monoxide in 2006.

Silent Killer, Keyless Cars
A new report has highlighted the dangers of keyless ignition vehicles – which allows drivers to start their cars with the press of a button and enter the vehicle with an electronic fob (pictured a driver starts at Toyota Prius Hybrid)

The automaker insists its keyless cars ‘meets or exceeds all relevant federal safety standards.’

Toyota does have a set of safety features for its keyless cars, which includes three alarms outside the car, and one inside, to alert drivers getting out while the motor is still running.

But, according to a wrongful death lawsuit, when Toyota engineers recommended additional  warning signals such as flashing lights or a unique tone, they were rejected.

Michael and Jamie Sobik were at their home in Miramar Beach, Florida, on October 8, 2015, when Michael suddenly smelled car fumes. Jamie Sobik had parked her Lexus in their garage and left the engine on overnight, flooding it with carbon monoxide.

Michael said he realized what had happened but was confused and had slowed motor skills thanks to the lack of oxygen.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, detectors
Report found that, since 2006, at least 28 people have died and 45 were injured after they mistakenly left the engine running in the garage, allowing their home to fill with the deadly gas (pictured is a monoxide gas alarm)

He was able to save himself and his wife, who woke up ‘gasping’ for air.

‘Next thing you know he’s dragging me onto the grass,’ she said.

When fire officials arrived, they found levels of carbon monoxide were 80 times the safe level for humans.

Another couple, Timothy Maddock and Chasity Glisson, were discovered unconscious on their bathroom floor in Florida in 2010 after Glisson also left her Lexus running overnight.

Glisson died as a result of the carbon monoxide exposure, while Maddock survived with a brain injury.

The issue has become so great in Palm Beach County that the district chief for the Fire Rescue Department began handing out carbon monoxide detectors and signs to display in garages, which read: ‘Carbon Monoxide Kills. Is Your Car Off?’

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had proposed new regulations, but the auto industry opposed them.

So far, no safety regulations concerning keyless ignition have been introduced.

However, some manufacturers, such as Ford have been more proactive about introducing safety measures and in 2013, introduced a safety feature that automatically turns off the engine, after 30 minutes, if the key fob is not in the vehicle.

Yet, many of its older vehicles do not include the safety feature.

General Motors retroactively installed the same cut off feature on its vehicles during  a 2015 recall, a G.M. report to the safety agency states.

An investigation by the administration into seven automakers five years ago, to discover what safety features were used for keyless ignition vehicles, was ‘quickly and inconclusively wound down,’ the Times reported.

‘Once NHTSA has finished its review and determined the best path forward, NHTSA will take appropriate action,’ the agency said in March.

A 2015 class action lawsuit claimed that there had been 13 carbon monoxide-related deaths linked to keyless ignition cars.  It was dismissed in September 2016.

The dangers of carbon monoxide

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous, odorless gas produced when fuels such as gas, oil, coal and wood don’t burn fully.

Symptoms to be aware of include breathlessness, headaches, nausea, dizziness, collapse and the loss of consciousness.

The side-effects of exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide are not always obvious can be similar to those of food poisoning and flu.

But higher doses can be fatal as the gas attaches to haemoglobin, preventing red blood cells from carrying oxygen around the body.

If exposure continues, the heart will stop pumping blood to the brain, which can be fatal.


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