Tell us again why electronic keys are an automotive technology advance? Apparently, they’re so great that our National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has to re-write the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 114 (in a ham-handed way) to accommodate them. And so super-duper that these new electronic ignition system vehicles are introducing new hazards that are killing and injuring consumers.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s office is investigating last week’s carbon monoxide poisoning deaths of Adele Ridless and Mort Victor. The couple is 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.
Toyota – whose clever keyless ignition system has been implicated in at least two other carbon monoxide deaths – last month issued a Technical Service Bulletin noting that two “Smart Keys” from different vehicles in close proximity can knock the system for a loop. The February 24 notice covers some 2011 and 2012 Lexus models:
“Some 2011 and 2012 Lexus models may exhibit a condition where the Smart Key system is inoperative when another vehicle’s Smart key is in or near the vehicle. The following functions may also be affected: wireless remote operation, Smart access, and Smart start. The combination meter multi-information display may show the message: “Key not detected” when attempting to start vehicle and when driving.”
What are they talking about? NHTSA and the automakers have told us that the key in an electronic system is an invisible code inside the vehicle’s ignition module. So does that mean if you park next to another Toyota or some other manufacturer with an electronic ignition, your shiny new Lexus won’t start? Wow, that’s going to make parking in public lots a whole lot tougher. Continue reading
Has Paula Poundstone been reading our memos to NHTSA about the serious safety problems created by keyless ignition systems? This weekend, the comedienne broke into a spontaneous and funny rant about them during her weekly gig with the NPR news quiz show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!”
“You know what my car has that is the worst feature I’ve ever had in a car? Is this damn thing where you don’t put the key in!” she fumes about the systems which allow a driver to exit the vehicle with the key fob and the engine running. “And it’s so frustrating! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten back to the car – oh, Geez, I left it running again! You have no way of knowing that the car’s running!”
(Listen to Paula Poundstone on keyless ignition — Poundstone’s comments begin at about the eight-minute mark.)
Timing is everything in comedy, and as it happens, Ms. Poundstone offered her observational bit just a week after NHTSA posted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to “fix” the problems introduced by keyless ignition systems: rollaways and carbon monoxide poisonings. Unfortunately, some people who took their key fobs with them, while inadvertently leaving their vehicles running in an attached garage, died from carbon monoxide poisonings. Rollaways have produced their share of injuries and property damage. These incidents are not so funny.
Many people victimized by poor designs blame themselves for their forgetfulness. But we think Ms. Poundstone hit the mark when she called it “the worst feature” she’s ever had in a car. We similarly think that NHTSA solution is a work-around and doesn’t serve the intent of FMVSS 114 or consumers, who have to pay – not to mention risk their safety – for industry’s and regulators’ bad decisions.
Stay tuned. We’ll be submitting our comments to the docket. In the meantime, if you, like Paula Poundstone, have left your keyless ignition car running, but aren’t a regular radio-show panelist, tell NHTSA by submitting a Vehicle Owner Questionnaire. Or comment directly to the proposal in Docket NHTSA-2011-0174.
(For more on keyless ignition hazards see Stupid Tricks with Smart Keys)
Someone should have seen this one coming.
In November, a New York woman filed a lawsuit against Toyota, claiming that its keyless entry system resulted in the death of one man and her own debilitating injuries. How did it happen? Carbon monoxide poisoning from her Lexus, inadvertently left running in the garage under her home. Mary Rivera, of Queens, New York alleged that her so-called Smart Key, an electronic fob system, allowed her to exit the vehicle without it being turned off. The engine was so quiet Rivera didn’t notice that the motor was still running.
Just another one of those crazy lawsuits where some consumer does something really dumb and tries to blame the hapless manufacturer, right? More fodder for all those conservative blatherskites who love to dump on trial lawyers, right?
Actually, no. This preventable tragedy is the inevitable consequence of bad design and a NHTSA’s interpretation of the rules. Continue reading