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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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Going Keyless! Is It Worth The Risk?


Keyless ignition is a popular feature on many vehicles, but is it safe? It makes starting a car simpler, true? When accompanied with a remote car starter, it allows us to enter a warm car in the winter time; we can melt ice off of our windshields from the comforts of our homes or offices. But, according to recent reports, keyless ignitions may also be life- threatening, even deadly.

For those unfamiliar with this technology, the keyless ignition system allows the driver to keep the key fob in a pocket or purse when accessing and starting the vehicle. These devices use an electronic code that enables a vehicle to be started either by pressing a button or inserting the fob into a slot on the dashboard. When the driver leaves the vehicle, he simply presses a button to shut the car off. If they driver forgets to press the button, a beeping sound alerts the driver, but a short time later, the car will shut itself off. It runs when the key fob is inside (or near) the vehicle. Sounds safe enough, so what’s the problem? Newer vehicles idle very smoothly and very quietly; is it relatively easy for a person to accidentally leave a vehicle running, with the key sitting in a cup holder, and walk away? Or, even if the key is taken from the quietly idling vehicle, has the key fob traveled far enough to activate the automatic shut-off?

Although there is too little data to know for sure, some auto experts say “yes.” The Today Show featured a segment on the risks of the keyless ignition highlighting a former college professor from New York who has filed a lawsuit against Toyota. The woman claims that the keyless entry system caused her permanent brain damage and also caused the death of her long-time partner. The cause? Carbon monoxide poisoning filled their home when the woman inadvertently left the vehicle running in the garage.

Her lawsuit claims that the vehicle continued to run even though the fob was separated from the vehicle by distance and time, and, because the engine is so quiet, she could not hear it running. The suit also alleges that the keyless ignition system violates federal safety standards because the vehicle can be left running without a driver present. According to her attorney, “The engine should shut off after a specific period of time of inactivity.” Toyota says that the system is programmed to deliver both audible and visual warnings if the driver attempts to leave the car without first shutting off the engine.

So, leaving a vehicle running in a closed garage and filling your home with carbon monoxide has got to be fluke, right? Wrong. In September 20009, a man parked his vehicle in his attached garage, and not realizing that the ignition was still running, he left his key fob in the car, exited the vehicle, closed his electronic garage door, entered his house and eventually went to sleep for the evening. Fortunately, he was woken by the sound of his home carbon monoxide alarm. When he entered the garage, he discovered that the car’s engine was still running and the garage was filled with noxious smoke. If the fob remains in the vehicle or nearby, the computer assumes the driver is still nearby as well, and therefore it will not shut off.

Opponents are certain to call this a “frivolous” lawsuit; industry experts love to call incidents like this one “frivolous” or “stupid”, until one of their precious loved ones are disabled or killed in a similar incident. This is a problem with two very easy fixes: Stop manufacturing and selling keyless ignition devices or make them safer, with an automatic kill switch, after a vehicle idles for a certain length of time. Blaming the victims for “stupidity” will not make the product safer.

Auto manufacturers consistently call the fob- the key, and consumers think the fob is the key. So why is it that when it comes to compliance, the fob is no longer considered a key? A key will not come out of the ignition until a vehicle is turned off, yet a fob (the key) does not have the same safety measures. Why is the victim to blame for a poor design or inadequate warnings by the manufacturer?

A keyless car may be a convenience, but with all of the distractions that confront today’s drivers, leaving a vehicle running, without realizing it, is quite foreseeable, experts say. And if this foreseeable inadvertence happens to take place in a closed, attached, garage, it can be deadly. According to Edmunds.com, electronic key systems are featured on at least 150, 2010 model year, vehicles. Is the effort to make vehicles more convenient making them more dangerous? Do all consumers understand the technology? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports an average of 147 carbon monoxide poisonings a year, but it does not separately tally instances from vehicles with keyless ignition. The agency believes there is enough concern to warrant consideration for tighter restrictions.

A spokesperson for NHTSA said the agency is assessing keyless ignition systems and is aware of "some potential safety issues.” These systems are not standardized, so manufacturer’s system might, and often do, work differently. Some manufacturers program an audible alarm, similar to the beeping you hear when you open your car door with the key in the ignition (is this “beeping” loud enough for a hearing impaired citizen?), but it does not shut the car off. Others may automatically shut off after idling for a certain period of time. Still, other models have nothing to alert the driver that the vehicle is still running.

Regardless, if you own a vehicle with keyless ignition, read the owner’s manual carefully and become familiar with the operation and alarms to protect yourself and those you love. Additionally, keep safety in mind at all times. The remote key fobs are very easily compromised and can put you and your vehicle at risk. The signal that tells the vehicle it is ok to unlock the doors from outside, is the same signal that tells the ignition it is ok to start the car from the inside. Essentially, this is a two-for-one deal for thieves who can hack into the system. It can also be dangerous if you are being followed by someone as you approach your vehicle because the fob will automatically unlock the doors when you are within range. Again, I ask the ulimate safety question: Is the convenience and time saved worth the potential price? What do you think?

Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide legal finance cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by plaintiffs involved in pending, personal injury litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association as well as their ABA Advisory Committee, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.


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    NO, it isn’t worth the risk (though of course it’s not really a risk if your garage is not attached to your home). Even still, the ONLY way to know if carbon monoxide poisoning is a risk is to keep CO detectors in the home. So many tragedies could be avoided, and lives saved if everyone with a fuel-burning appliance, fireplace or attached garage were to install a detector. Thank you for helping folks out there to make intelligent decisions.

  2. Mark Bello says:
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    Thanks for the comment “safetystore”. You are absolutely correct. In our September 2009 example, the man involved was saved from harm when his carbon monoxide alarm sounded. Every homeowner, EVERYONE, should have these very inexpensive, lifesaving alarm/alert systems in their homes. I went to your website at http://www.firesafetystore.com and saw that plug in alarms cost less than 30 bucks. A small price to pay for your life and your health. Thanks again.

  3. Neal Delfer says:
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    We keyless systems on 2 of our cars and truly love them. They are the best convienence product I have came across in years. I don’t see what the difference is if the people had a key or a push button to turn off their car. It really sad but this just sounds like another case of an greedy attorney looking for a quick way to make a buck by by sturring the pot on an otherwise great product.

  4. Mark Bello says:
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    Neal: I understand the convenience and I get that you know exactly how to use and enjoy it. But, a simple “kill switch” would prevent the incidents described in the post. One person was killed, one brain damaged, other similar incidents have been reported and, instead of lobbying for increased safety for these devices, you use these incidents to slam a “greedy attorney”?!

    The attorney didn’t cause these incidents to happen, the manufacturer and the consumers did. The manufacturer can certainly argue that the consumer in this was not as smart as you are, but the facts are that the product could be made safer with a simple “kill switch” mechanism. True? How is that the fault of a “greedy attorney”?

  5. Chad says:
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    i agree with Neal on his point. it does sound like someone is after money. At some point, peoples own stupidity has to be taken in to account. It is not always the manufactures fault. i am a strong believe that people should take responsibility for there action.

    I am not say in that the article does not have a point, but a lot of lawsuits are about money and not about the safety, (that’s the reason given to get the money).

    if it all about safety just go for the court costs only. why should someone profit off of the manufacture for someone’s stupidity.

    So are you saying that some can not forget a vehicle running with a key in the ignitions too. there are not timers on them ether.

    the point i am trying to get across is that there are too many lawsuits that just benefit the stupidity of people (how can i make money off this) and not about the safety issues they say they are about.

    At some point people have to take the blame for they mess and problems they cause. this is also the same reason our economy is in the shape it is because it is never anyone’s problem it always someone else!!!!