Senators push for keyless ignition standards

February 27, 2019

After a bombshell report showed that keyless ignition systems have contributed to a rise in accidental carbon-monoxide deaths, two senators are pushing for new standards.

Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) introduced last week the PARK IT Act, which specifically calls for new vehicles to feature an automatic ignition shut off. The problem surrounding keyless push-button ignitions stems from quieter engines that some drivers may not realize are still on. Last year, The New York Times reported at least 28 people had died since 2006 from carbon monoxide poisoning after drivers left their car running not knowing the vehicle was still on. Keyless ignitions are fitted to nearly two-thirds of new cars sold today.

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Not only does the legislation aim to curb carbon-monoxide deaths, but it also looks to protect drivers from trying to stop the engine while in drive or neutral. There remains a roll-away risk for cars that feature push-button ignitions. The new legislation not only would mandate automakers to adopt an automatic shut off feature but would also set performance standards for when a car would shut off if it is left in "Drive" or "Neutral."

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The NHTSA has considered a rule since 2011 that would mandate the length of time a driver must hold the push-button ignition down to shut the car off and provide more audible alerts when a driver exits the car while it's still running. The PARK IT Act goes further and suggests automakers could install the desired features for $5 per vehicle. That figure comes from a General Motors estimate used in a 2015 NHTSA report. The automaker said it would cost about $5 to retrofit an existing vehicle with an automatic shut-off system.

The NHTSA responded to the legislation and said it currently publishes safety campaigns to help drivers understand how keyless ignition systems work. Most cars also feature alerts when a car is left running and the senators, praised GM and Ford for including such a feature.

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