A Great Technology – Keyless Ignition Systems Have Their Dangers

The psychology behind the problems with keyless ignitions lie in the deep-seated behaviors we have with our cars. We rely on our habits and everyday motions for entering our cars, starting the engine, fastening the seatbelt or adjusting the mirrors. With keyless entry and keyless ignition some of our old habits don’t apply any more. Those long-standing habits are causing some people problems with their vehicles. Problems that are on the rise as more car manufactures switch to this type of technology. The NTHSA is looking into ways to curb the problem and provide a stronger measure of safety.
A keyless ignition system is a device that is carried by the driver to gain access to the vehicle and the ability to start the engine. Instead of a key a small chip inside the key fob sends a signal to the car’s computer allowing access to the starting system without physical contact. The driver can then push a button or turn a switch to start the vehicle. Keyless ignitions are becoming mainstream today as car manufacturers are seeing the potential for adding them into their fleet.
Recent incidents in the news, resulting in death or injuries have focused more attention on the problems drivers are having with these new systems.
In Florida the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s office is investigating last week’s carbon monoxide poisoning deaths of a couple suspected to have succumbed to a build-up of carbon monoxide emanating from their Mercedes with a keyless ignition, parked in an attached garage. The sheriff’s office declined comment pending the outcome of their investigation.
This week Miami-Dade Police and fire rescue responded to a home in Miami Lakes. According to neighbors, a car was left running in the garage of the home, and two elderly women were inside the home. When police arrived on the scene, a woman was found dead from carbon monoxide that apparently had leaked from the garage into the home. The other woman was taken to St. Mary’s Medical Center in Palm Beach because of it has a special hyperbaric chamber used to treat victims of carbon monoxide poisoning. She is in stable conditions.
It is still unclear as to whether this most recent incident was a keyless ignition problem. The cause of this accident is still under investigation, the age and model of the vehicle have not been released, however it points out the dangers that can occur from simply forgetting to turn off the ignition.
In addition to carbon monoxide poisoning, keyless systems also create the problem of rollways. Under current Federal Manufacturer Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS 114) a driver cannot remove a vehicle’s key without the engine off and the vehicle’s automatic transmission in the Park position. With many keyless entry systems, this protection has all but vanished. While some warn the drivers that the key has been removed and the transmission is not in Park, the warnings have varied effectiveness, leading to complaints to NHTSA like this one involving a 2006 Audi A6:
During the extensive investigation conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) they received many personal accounts of accidents or injuries that were experience by people who possessed this technology.
One driver had the vehicle knock him down and then catch hold of his foot and then dragging him over a curb. The vehicle ended up on his left foot trapping him. Several men came to assist and lifted the car off. Although he had shut the engine down, he had failed to place the transmission in park before exiting the vehicle.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has purposed new standards for the operation and controls used to stop the engine in systems that do not require a physical key. They are proposing an audible warning be given to any driver who attempts to shut down the propulsion system without first moving the gear selection control to the park position. The alarm would also sound if a driver attempts to exits a vehicle without first turning off the engine system.
The proposed change would also standardize the amount of time a driver would have to hold down the button in order to start and stop the engine. It would require that the switch that turns off the vehicle work whether the vehicle is running at speed or not.
Currently in order to shut down the engine at speeds the driver is required to hold down the button for three seconds, for an emergency procedure is something most drivers are less than accomplished in. Indeed, many owners are not even aware of this hold the button requirement.
The proposed rule seeks to change this control activation for all stops regardless of whether the vehicle is moving or stationary.
The proposed rule change would implement the creation of a loud audible warning system to alert the driver that the door is open while the engine is running and also a warning to the driver when exiting the vehicle if the transmission is not in park, the alarm continues until the vehicle is placed in to the park position.
The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) created the Keyless Ignition Subcommittee as a subcommittee of the Controls and Displays Committee, which has worked since early 2009 to develop an SAE Recommended Practice (RP) to standardize the operation of keyless ignition systems.
These new provisions would reduce consumers confusion with these new controls and reduce the potential for deaths or injury. The NHTSA believes that based on the Society of Automotive Engineers new report on (Recommended Practice) the implementation of these requirements would have little or no costs to implement. The alarms are already part of the electronic system and would only require a system modification to complete installation.

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