Keyless Ignitions Causing Death and Injuries from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

If you have a car with a keyless ignition, odds are you’ve started to leave your car before you realized you still had the engine running. Maybe you’ve even stepped out and closed the door. Or even worse, maybe you’ve gone in your house with the car parked in the garage and only after second guessing yourself, gone out to find you did leave the car on. It’s surprisingly easy to do given that car engines are quieter than ever, we’re busier than ever, and many cars are not outfitted with alerts to notify us that the car is still on.


Suburban Chicago Couple Dies After Car Left Running in Garage
A New York Times investigation found that while no agency or group tracks the number of deaths or injuries related to carbon monoxide poisoning from cars with keyless ignitions, at least 28 people have died after leaving their car on in their own garage. The known number of those injured is at least 45. The Times tells multiple stories of victims both living and deceased, including that of a 75 year old man who died after leaving his car on overnight. Another couple managed to escape their home after waking up sick and disoriented, only to find the level of carbon monoxide was 80 times higher than tolerable for the human body.

One tragic story that wasn’t told is that of a local elderly couple who died after leaving their Lincoln Continental running in the garage. In June 2015, Pasquale Fontanini, 79, and his wife, Rita, 76, were discovered in their home by their son, a Highland Park Fire Department lieutenant. Investigators believe a carbon monoxide detector in the home woke up Pasquale Fontanini, but at that point the level of fumes was already fatally high.


What is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a toxic colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas. According to the CDC, symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are consistent with those associated with the flu. Those symptoms are:

  • headache
  • dizziness
  • weakness
  • upset stomach
  • vomiting
  • chest pain
  • confusion

Many of those who succumb to carbon monoxide poisoning are either sleeping or intoxicated, unable to feel the effects of the gas before being poisoned to death.


Lack of Regulations Surrounding Keyless Ignitions
It’s surprising that with the number of deaths and injuries, there are still no laws or regulations for keyless ignitions that require safety precautions such as alerts or alarms. Since 2002, American cars have been using key fobs that send an electronic signal to a vehicle in order to unlock it and start the engine. Over half of cars sold today include the feature and many drivers are so reliant on the convenience of these vehicles that they can’t imagine going back to a turnkey ignition.

So if the feature is now becoming standard in cars, why hasn’t the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) done anything to force manufacturers to include safety notifications? It’s certainly not cost. A 2015 vehicle recall by General Motors revealed that it only cost $5 to install an alarm system after the fact. In 2011, the NHTSA proposed a new rule that would require cars to do so, estimating it would only take a simple tweak of a car’s software during manufacturing and would cost less than $1. Overall, they said the auto industry as a whole would take a $500,000 annual hit to include this software feature. The rule was met with harsh responses from car manufacturers and was pushed aside.

Some Manufacturers Have Taken Initiative
Although an official rule is lacking, some car makers have decided to take action on their own. Here are the manufacturers we know of that have implemented a feature that warns drivers when the engine is running and they’ve left the vehicle:

  1. Fiat Chrysler: Some of their newer vehicles have a 30 second “chime” when the engine is left running and the key fob leaves the car. Some older models chime until the fob is back in the car.
  2. Mazda: Some models beep six times both in and out of the car if the engine is on and the driver gets out and closes the doors. The dashboard also has a alert light. Other Mazdas have just an outside warning when the keys are left inside a running car.
  3. Toyotas: Some models do 3 outside beeps when the car is running and the key fob is not inside.
  4. GM (Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC) : As of 2017, all GM vehicles with keyless ignitions have the  keyless shut off feature. This turns the car off if it is left idling for longer than 30 minutes.
  5. Ford: Some Ford models also include the automatic shut off feature.

If you drive a car with a keyless ignition, we encourage you to make sure the engine is turned off as big of a  priority as locking the doors behind you. Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur even if the car is left running in a garage with the door open. It’s hard to imagine a reason why all car companies aren’t following in GM’s footsteps and outfitting keyless ignition cars with alarms, alerts, or other notifications. Even worse, why hasn’t the agency tasked with making sure car companies keep us safe done anything about it? It only takes one injury or death to show that the possibility of harm is there. If it’s such a small cost to car companies to include safety notifications, why can’t they pass on the minimal increase to us instead of making us potentially pay the price with our lives?

Levin & Perconti
For almost 3 decades, the personal injury attorneys of Chicago’s Levin & Perconti have successfully represented clients who have been injured by vehicles, whether as passengers, pedestrians, or cyclists. Our attorneys are committed to finding the responsible party and vigorously pursuing justice for victims of negligent corporations and individuals. If you or someone you love has been hurt by a car or truck, whether in an accident or from a faulty vehicle, please contact us now to find out how we can get justice for you. Consultations with our attorneys are always free. Talk to an attorney now by calling (312) 332-2872  or by filling out our online case evaluation form.


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