By on June 20, 2019

Since 2005, 37 deaths by carbon monoxide poisoning have been attributed to vehicles with keyless ignitions that were inadvertently left running. Automatic engine shutoff is not currently mandated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, so manufacturer’s application of the technology is sporadic. But the PARK IT Act wants to change that. 

As reported by the Detroit Free Press, many vehicles with keyless ignition have the ability to be left running indefinitely, even if the key fob has left the vehicle. “Auto safety experts say it’s an ongoing problem. They want legislation mandating that automakers install automatic engine shutoffs — along with software that would make a car immobile if a driver left it in gear.”

“In February, a proposed law dubbed the PARK IT Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate. A House version was introduced June 6. The name stands for Protecting Americans from the Risk of Keyless Technology. It seeks the following:

  • That automakers be required to provide an automatic shutoff for keyless internal combustion engines when the car has been idling for a designated period of time.
  • That carmakers add an anti-rollaway feature to immobilize a car if a driver exits it, but leaves it in gear.
  • It mandates that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issue rules within two years of the law’s passage.”

Part of the issue is that keyless ignitions don’t work like a physical key. There is not an ignition interlock that’s broken if the key leaves the vehicle. The Start/Stop button is still what controls the ignition so, without an automatic shutoff strategy, the vehicle could continue running until it runs out of fuel. Add in the fact that many cars can idle whisper-quietly, and you could envision how someone could be in a hurry — with hands full — forgetting to turn off the car. If that happened in a closed garage that’s attached to a home, the occupants could be in real danger.

It’s not that the automakers are ignorant to the fact that their vehicles can remain running after the driver leaves with the key. There are a variety of beeps, chimes, and messages that are used to notify a driver that they left the vehicle running. According to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers spokesman Wade Newton, the Society of Automotive Engineers have recommended practices that are followed by current designs and operations. However, these focus on consumer understanding of the systems and acting responsibly, rather than leaning upon preventative strategies.

Auto engine shutoff should not be terribly difficult or expensive to implement, as the vehicle already knows when the key has left the range of its interior. It would require a glorified timer to be implemented to automatically turn off the engine after a predetermined period. How long that should be would likely fall between the length of time that an engine could be kept running for practical purposes and how long it would take to put someone near the vehicle at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.

The only useful purpose I could see for not implementing an automatic engine shutoff would be if someone wanted to leave A/C or heat running for an occupant while they left the car. We all know the dangers of leaving pets and children in hot cars. It would be tragic if someone didn’t realize that their car would shut itself down and this led to a death.

They key for the consumer may be to know your vehicle. Unfortunately, modern vehicles have become so complex that it takes a relatively studious mind to become intimately familiar with them. Driving a new or unfamiliar car would reset this learning curve, as there is not yet a universal standard among all manufacturers for keyless ignition functions.

Auto engine shutoff, in some version, is offered on most cars from Ford, GM, and FCA. Toyota Motor North America announced last week that it will add automatic engine shutoff and automatic park technology to its 2020 model year lineup. It would be beneficial if a standard was created to commonize the strategies among all carmakers’ keyless ignition vehicles and the PARK IT Act seems to me like a step in the right direction.

 

[Images: Toyota; Buick]

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39 Comments on “With New Technology Comes New Ways to Die...”


  • avatar
    volvo

    In addition to the key distance perhaps add that seats need to be occupied to the engine shut off algorithm. Sensors for airbag deployment are already in the seats.

    I say this because I can imagine a driver leaving the key on the seat or console (as shown in the article picture) and then leaving the vehicle.

    • 0 avatar

      I would expect this to be part of the algorithm, but it requires more than the weight of a key to trigger the seat occupancy sensor.
      But, leaving the key fob in the car, no matter where it is, would not activate the auto-shutoff sequence, unless there was one created for a stationary idling vehicle with the driver presumed to be inside.

      • 0 avatar
        volvo

        I guess I wasn’t clear enough. You would need the weight of a passenger in the seat. If no passenger weight then engine shutoff timer would activate regardless where the fob is. So if you leave the fob in the car and no one is in the drivers seat then shutoff timer starts

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      I can’t imagine that most people will leave the key in the car. Sure when it is new to you you may pull the fob out, but most people will quickly learn that they can leave it in their pocket or purse and it will stay there. I know it didn’t take long for me to learn to leave it in the pocket. My wife has them buried deep in her purse and never touches them.

    • 0 avatar
      Guitar man

      The whole point of keyless starting is to start the car without the keyfob so that the car and engine is warm by the time you’re ready to leave.

      eg you live in North Dakota in the winter, start the car remotely and then when you’re ready to leave it’s all ready. Then – damn I forgot my phone – you go back into the house and walk into a garage full of carbon monoxide.

      • 0 avatar
        tankinbeans

        Guitar Man, I feel like you’re talking about 2 separate pieces of kit, remote start and push-button start (keyless ignition). I have a keyless ignition in my Mazda6 as does my mom in her Mazda3. Neither of us has remote start; I because my car is a manual; she because her car wasn’t so equipped and she hasn’t deined to have it installed. Once started with key fob in the vehicle, both can be driven without the fob anywhere near the car.

        Using your example of running into the house to grab a forgotten phone, I could start my car, get the phone, set my keys down on the counter, and drive off. I’ll get a flashing red light indicating the key is no longer in proximity, but the engine won’t stall. It becomes a problem when you reach your destination and shut the car off; there is no delay in forgetting the key code. The car is dead in the water at that point and a key is required to restart. My Focus ST had keyless go, but would allow you to restart within 10 seconds regardless of whether the key was in the car or not. I ran into this several weeks ago taking mom to an appointment in her car. She had the key in her purse and I went to run a quick errand. Drove off to my destination and shut off the car; wouldn’t restart. Thankfully I was only about a mile away and so could walk back to wait.

        It depends on the manufacturer whether the car can be operated without the fob in proximity.

  • avatar
    bullnuke

    Another set of safety nannies to add to the list. By all means let us continue to dull the senses of operators of fairly massive motor vehicles to the necessary awareness and responsibilities of piloting these vehicles on the nations highways. The scythe of Darwin swiping down of those unaware of the responsibilities of driving would, in my mind, be more helpful por encourege les autres to be more mindful of how to safely drive a motor vehicle. This is getting pretty nutty.

    • 0 avatar
      jalop1991

      @bullnuke: right ON.

      I think they should call it DRAT, the Darwinism Repeal ATtempt Act.

      Right now, the world is busy getting together bigger fools for the next round. In this particular arms race, the fools will win every time.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” – Ronald Reagan

    I don’t much care for government macro managing industry. Regardless this seems a worthwhile minimum cost change – dammit!

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Cheeez. What, they don’t want people to die? What are we going to do with all these people? More people – more pollution. More pollution, more sick/dead people.

  • avatar
    ACCvsBig10

    You need nannies for the nannies.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    So about 3 deaths per year, which is about 10x higher than the number of people who are killed by pythons – pretty urgent.

    IMO, the risks of the fix could outweigh the benefits – one of which could be forgetting that your *other* car doesn’t have the engine timer nanny.

    • 0 avatar
      TCowner

      Kind of like the Suburban rental I had, that told me to look in the back seat, every time I shut it off, to make sure there isn’t a kid back there. People that are so stupid they forget their offspring in the backseat shouldn’t have to force the 99.99999999% of the population to endure additional, unnecessary stupid stuff.

    • 0 avatar
      SirRaoulDuke

      “IMO, the risks of the fix could outweigh the benefits – one of which could be forgetting that your *other* car doesn’t have the engine timer nanny.”

      The government is not well-known for considering unintended consequences.

      Anyone that believes it is the duty of the government to prevent three deaths per year caused by forgetfulness/idiocy does not deserve freedom.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    Are users thinking they pushed the button properly to shut off the car but in fact somehow didn’t? In that case, part of the problem is poor user interface design. There’s simply not enough feedback that you’ve turned the car off and the state of the car isn’t clearly indicated (visually and by feel) by the control itself.

    This is the same problem as monostable shifters, as outlined right here on TTAC. https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2017/05/expect-annoying-shifter-next-new-car-blame-technology/

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    If I remember correctly, my 2014 Lincoln MKS had a message that would pop up on the instrument cluster, letting you know the engine was going to shut off unless you pressed OK and extended the timer.

    They could do something like that, but they’d have to put it in the infotainment system if they wanted to make it to where occupants could remain in the car with the A/C and engine running. But that still wouldn’t work for some elderly people and younger kids. Not that you should be leaving vulnerable people in the car by themselves, but plenty do.

    Or better yet, as these new cars become hybrids with accessories entirely decoupled from the engine and with large batteries, you soon won’t *need* to leave the engine running if you want the A/C on.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      That only lasts so long until the battery is depleted to the point where the engine starts up and charges it back up. Of course it depends on the exact demand but based on the various Ford Hybrids it will run about 1 in 5 minutes of idling in 80 something weather.

  • avatar
    Ryannosaurus

    I really dislike keyless start. First of all, you still have to have a key (fob) that allows you enter/start the car. My wife has one of these and it is very aggravating. She constantly leaves the key in the car’s cupholder or forgets which purse she has it in. Maybe they could put a special spot in the car to place it? Every time I exit the car to open a gate or check the mail the damn thing honks at me, thinks I am leaving the car running unintentionally.

    All of this complexity and the only advantage is not having to take the fob out of your pocket. So now I find myself driving with the damn thing digging into my thigh (house and mail keys are still there)…

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      I too wish there were a designated spot for the keys. I find myself tossing them in the little binacle under the radio or wearing them around my neck on a lanyard.

      I cop to appreciating the convenience of being able to start the car and do the driveway shuffle, a frequent enough occurence) without having to undo a bunch of keychains, but recognize that keyless go is nothing more than a gimmick and a solution to a question nobody asked.

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        It’s passed off as a gimmick to consumers. To manufacturers, a push-button start mechanism is probably cheaper to manufacture than a key and cylinder combo.

    • 0 avatar
      jalop1991

      “She constantly leaves the key in the car’s cupholder or forgets which purse she has it in.”

      She would forget which purse she has it in if it were the key to a 1967 Chevy. Nothing would be different. She’s still get to the car, realize she doesn’t have the key, then have to go back and find it.

      Stop making outrageous statements to try to support your non-argument.

      • 0 avatar
        Dynasty

        >She would forget which purse she has it in if it were the key to a 1967 Chevy. Nothing would be different. She’s still get to the car, realize she doesn’t have the key, then have to go back and find it.

        That isn’t how it would work out. The ignition key is attached to the house keys. She uses the house keys to lock up.

        So the question should be why isn’t the Fob on the key chain with the rest of the keys?

    • 0 avatar
      Guitar man

      You can start the car remotely, but it will stall if you attempt to drive off if you don’t have the keyfob inside the car. Otherwise it would be easy to steal, the remote starting algorithm is not encrypted or anything, it has no security.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Not true. I don’t know who started this myth.

        No car on the market stops the engine if you drive off without the key—because that has obvious safety implications. Imagine if it stalled while you were trying to get on the highway, or when you needed to turn a corner (and therefore needed power steering and power brakes).

        However, a car with a smart key will chime at you immediately if the key fob leaves the car while the engine is running. It will also probably have some audible warning from outside, for the person who is accidentally walking away with the key (usually a honk or beep). Then, if you’re still stupid or oblivious enough to drive off in it, it’ll keep running, but won’t start again the next time…until you get the key.

        • 0 avatar
          Ltd1983

          I know I’ve had 2 Nissans with remote start & keyless entry, and they’ll shutoff if you remote start it, and then try to drive off without the key. You aren’t able to go anywhere, it shuts off as soon as you depress the button on the shifter to put them into D.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      The one I’m skittish about is the cars that allow access and start via a smartphone. (Tesla for one, and I thought that HyundKia is going to have something like that.) I can deal with the telematics stuff, but physically being able to access and drive the car without some sort of physical whatever is a problem. Even a credit card sized object with an RFID chip is OK (though if you lose your wallet or pocketbook, you’re screwed). But not a phone!

      • 0 avatar
        el scotto

        It all depends on how secure the smartphone app is. It’s just remote starting via a different medium.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          True enough. I’ve got the “HondaLink” app which allows remote start and unlock, for instance. IIRC, GM has an OnStar app to do the same. (It’s actually weird..when I took delivery of my Accord a couple weeks back, I had downloaded that app to my phone. The salesman and I were sitting in the parking lot, and he told me to start the engine to keep the battery charged while we went through the features. And before I had paired my iPhone to the car, that app fired up as soon as I started the car, and the app prompted me to accept the pairing of the car — with correct VIN — to the app! The car probably pings out on the Bluetooth looking for apps in the vicinity!)

          But you still need the fob to move the vehicle. That’s where things get weird!

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    I’m more wondering what the deal is with the automatic park.

    How is that gonna work? In a traditional shift lever automatic how is it going to move to park?

    Or am I missing something here? Are people exiting their car while it is still in drive? Or they want auto park if you shut off the car while it is in drive? How do you auto park if someone exits in drive? It’s going to idle away. I have to be getting something wrong here.

    This seems really unnecessary to me.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Well more and more the shifter is just a switch or set of switches with no mechanical connection to the transmission. So yeah it wouldn’t be hard to program is such that if open the door and it goes into park regardless of the position of the shifter.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      A friend has a 2017 Fusion with the rotary shifter that automatically moves to park once the engine is shut down. Otherwise those monostatic shifters with a button, that return to center regardless of gear, could probably be so programmed; nevermind the “what’s old is new” button-selectable transmissions.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        My 2015 Grand Cherokee (with the monostatic shifter) does that. But that programming was added only after a big scandal and the death of Anthony Yelchin.

  • avatar
    4drSedan

    Loud Pipes Save Lives.

    BAHahaha!

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    Toyota, what a disgrace. Seriously, their PTS vehicle programming is really lame. My 2015 Lincoln has Auto Engine Off that will shut it down after 30 minutes of idling. Before you get there however it would have beeped at you if you removed the fob from the car with it running. If you are sitting there trying to keep warm/cool then before it shuts down it will tell you that the engine will shut down in xx seconds and to press the OK button to override and keep the vehicle on. It is just a few lines of code, no extra hardware is required. You just need it to start counting was it was put in park and once you get to a certain count you turn everything off.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Clearly, not enough people died. Only when deaths will come in good numbers, will someone realize that transportation technology is deadly. And if you argue with me, humans make errors. My answer, human makes, human pays. I don’t want to be dependent on a bug in the chip

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    CO detectors are cheap and pretty accurate.
    I have them in my shop, home garage, and both levels of my house.
    It seems like every gas furnace is destined to have a cracked heat exchanger at some point in its life.

  • avatar
    Hummer

    Just require exhausts to be louder, I love listening to the sweet sound of an LS3, everyone can tell if my car is on or off stock from the factory.

  • avatar

    I said it before and I am saying that again – ICE vehicles are evil and out there on mission to kill us humans. Congress has to address this problem with urgency once and for all and outlaw ICE vehicles in coming years. EVs thanks to Tesla become a practical alternatives and if we outlaw ICE EV infrastructure will quickly develop because there would be no other alternative. Outlawing ICE vehicles solves so many problems on so many levels that it is not even funny how we tolerated such a horrible piece of technology for so long.


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  • sgeffe: True enough. I’ve got the “HondaLink” app which allows remote start and unlock, for instance. IIRC, GM has an...
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  • sgeffe: You still need someone watching the controls! And all the automation still breeds complacency, viz. Air...
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