Automotive Technology That Can Be Fatal
Some of us are used to the inseparable linking of our cars and their keys, thinking that the car cannot still be running if its key is removed from the ignition. But keyless ignition relies on an electronic fob with a button you must push to turn the car on or off; removing the fob from the ignition is not enough to shut down the engine. Older individuals are especially vulnerable to forgetting that removing the key isn’t enough, and the purr of modern engines can escape aging ears as they are not as alert as others. Car engines that continue to run after the fob has been removed from the car have been responsible for poisoning dozens of persons by carbon monoxide. At least 28 people have died, with 45 more injured by the dangerous gas. Survivors are often left with permanent brain damage.
Carbon Monoxide: Hazardous to your Health
Carbon monoxide (CO) is dangerous precisely because it is colorless, odorless, and deadly. It deprives the body of oxygen by taking the place of the oxygen molecules in your bloodstream. When CO leaks from a home heating system, it kills people in the home quickly and quietly—which is why we all should have CO detectors in our homes.
When you leave a car running in an attached garage, the CO builds up, seeping into the house. If you are asleep, you will drift off into death from the buildup of gas. That is what happened to Fred Schaub of New York, who mistakenly left his Toyota RAV4 running in his garage and who was found dead 29 hours later.
Why Hasn’t the Matter Been Addressed?
In 2011, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), the leading automotive standards group in the world, released their findings after studying the issue of cars which continue to run long after the fob was removed. Their conclusion was that a car should issue a series of audible warnings to alert drivers it was still running. In some cases, recommended the SAE, the car should shut down automatically.
The NHTSA also proposed a federal regulation along the same lines. It could have been implemented via a software change that cost pennies per vehicle. But the automotive industry opposed it, and no progress in implementing it has been made since then.
A class action suit brought in 2015 claimed that 13 had died because of keyless ignitions, but the suit was dismissed by a judge in 2016.
What’s the Answer?
You might think that a sensible solution would be for the car to automatically turn off after a specified amount of time. After all, modern vehicles switch off our headlights when we forget to do to. Why not implement audible warnings, and why not automatically shut down an engine if the vehicle has been stationary for a certain period of time with the fob removed?
At least one automotive manufacturer has done so. Ford vehicles with keyless ignition now alert drivers to the problem and turn off the engine after it has idled for 30 minutes if the fob is not inside the vehicle. Older vehicles can still be a problem, but the cost of fixing it is relatively small. General Motors said it spent $5 per car to install an automatic shutoff as part of a 2015 recall. It should be noted that a story by the New York Times claimed that Toyota cars, including the Lexus brand, have been involved in nearly half of the CO injuries and fatalities that they discovered in the course of their research.
For many who own keyless ignition vehicles, the risks remain. In Florida, one fire chief has seen so many carbon monoxide cases involving keyless ignition that he has begun giving residents CO detectors. Sean Kane, the founder of the auto safety research group Safety Research and Strategies, commented, “We’re going to continue to see deaths and injuries, and the manufacturers will continue to settle cases.”
When others breach their duty, we keep ours.
When we or a loved one are injured by a defective product or suffer a similar personal injury, we need to investigate the causes and make things right. If you or a family member has been injured by someone else’s negligence, speak with an experienced Indiana personal injury lawyer at McNeely Stephenson. Both Mike Stephenson, with his more than three decades of experience, and Brady Rife, with his diverse experience in personal injury litigation, will commit to the highest standards of client care for your case.
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