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Are Keyless Push-Button Ignitions a True Cause for Concern?

A Start Stop Button used to activate cars' ignition systems

Automakers are always trying to out-do themselves with features they hope will have consumers flocking to their brand and models in droves. Unfortunately, on occasion, they can also come up with a feature that is deemed dangerous – even deadly – such as the keyless push-button start.

In hindsight, although a seemingly convenient feature, vehicles equipped with a keyless, push-button ignition are now being considered a safety hazard.

How it works

The way it works is – instead of carrying a physical key and starting your car the old-fashioned way, a small electronic device called a key fob, which can be kept in your pocket or purse, transmits a code to your vehicle’s computer. When the code signal is recognized, a number of your vehicle’s systems can be activated, including the push-button ignition on the dashboard.

Recent news reports have attributed the push-button ignitions to more than a dozen accidental carbon-monoxide deaths nationwide. And, those deaths have resulted in a number of potential class-action lawsuits against multiple auto makers, claiming the keyless switches pose a substantial hazard to consumers. The 10 largest automakers named in the suit are alleged to have known about this issue for years, but ignored it.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has also been aware of the issue for some time, but its efforts to put rules in place to increase the safety factor for consumers has been largely ignored. A simple remedy the agency proposed was to make an audible alert mandatory. However, some automakers nixed the suggestion, saying the NHTSA’s proposed sound level was “much too loud” and that it would be considered more of an annoyance than a safety feature.

Another proposed solution arising from a class-action filed in August to reduce the risk of inadvertent carbon–monoxide poisoning, was to demand the installation of an automatic engine shut-off. Because the deaths are blamed on the car’s driver accidentally leaving the vehicle on and idling – believing it had been turned off – the shut-down would take place after a specific time interval, such as 15 or 30 minutes. And, once turned off – the vehicle would stay that way until restarted by the driver.

But, the mandatory automatic shut-off could also have adverse effects in some instances where the vehicle may need to stay on. For example, should the owner opt to keep the air conditioner or heater on for a pet while the owner shops could have drastic consequences.

It bears mentioning that many vehicles do have a warning system like an external chime or a chirp of the horn if the driver gets out and walks away from the vehicle with the engine idling and the electronic fob in their pocket or purse.

If you own one of the vehicles in which the automaker has already included the audible safety alert, it’s up to you to pay attention and not ignore it. As with any new automotive innovations, further improvements to make them better and safer may be required. Keep that in mind when shopping for your next new car, should it come with the popular keyless ignition.

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