National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Proposes Rule to Limit Risk Presented by Keyless Ignition Systems

Posted in Injury Law, Motor Vehicle Accidents

Keyless ignition systems were introduced as a convenient feature, but have created more than a few serious problems for consumers. Examples of reported problems include drivers’ inability to stop a moving vehicle in a panic situation; drivers who unintentionally leave the vehicle without the vehicle transmission’s being “locked in park” resulting in the car rolling away and damaging property or causing injury; and drivers who inadvertently leave the car without knowing that the engine is still running – a situation which has lead to reports of death from carbon monoxide poisoning when the vehicle was left running in an enclosed area, such as a garage. You may have seen jokes running around the internet, poking fun at the people who have fallen victim to the unforeseen hazards created by this convenient feature, however, the reality is that these issues are far from a laughing matter.  

How big of a problem is this?  Big enough to get the attention of the federal government’s safety watchdog, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), which, on December 12, 2011, posted a notice of proposed rule-making designed to fix some of the problems which keyless ignition systems have created. You can read more about it here.

So, NHTSA is proposing a system to warn the consumer of the fact that the car is still running.  My question – why?  There would be no need for this if you simply go back to using a key.  Isn’t that enough? Is keyless ignition really so useful that its worth keeping around given the substantial, documented risk for unintended harm to persons, property – even death – which is presents?  Worse still, the term “keyless” ignition is a misnomer. You still have a key. What you’ve actually eliminated is just the need to insert it in a slot in the dash. And for that “convenience” our government is proposing that manufacturers install yet another warning system in our cars to alert the consumer of the fact that the vehicle is still running.  Is this approach enough? Is it the best approach? It seems to me the answer is clearly “NO”. This is one example where I say the old way is not only simpler, it’s just simply better.