Keyless Ignition Incidents

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Cars with poorly designed keyless ignition systems can be deadly. Because the key doesn’t have to be inside the ignition to turn the car on and off, and pushing a button to turn off the engine doesn’t always work as intended, drivers of cars with defective keyless systems can unintentionally leave vehicles running.

Engineers know that these systems require a robust “key absent warning” or an auto shut off. In fact, the Society of Automotive Engineers has a required minimum standard for these systems, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has proposed strict rules. But automotive manufacturers have fought these rules even though internal documents show that their own engineers support the standards and have warned about the unacceptability and inadequacy of current warning systems.

The defective keyless systems have caused dozens of deaths and severe injuries. If the car is running in the garage, carbon monoxide can infiltrate into the house.

In early 2018, John Uustal pioneered the legal case against these automakers, and has won every case he has been involved in. He has also worked with the United States Senate and national news media to bring attention to the issue. He spoke with a New York Times reporter in 2018 and instigated a month’s -long investigation. This conversation, and the vital information provided by Mr. Uustal, served as the basis for a bombshell article in the front page of the May 14 edition of the paper. The article highlighted the number of people who were killed or seriously injured from carbon monoxide poisoning since 2006; the Times estimated 28 deaths and 45 injuries at the time of publication.

Three days after the article was published, Congress held a confirmation hearing for Heidi King, President Trump’s nominee for the head of the NHTSA. In 2011, the NHTSA had proposed regulations that would require automakers to include warnings and alerts when drivers inadvertently leave their vehicles running. Automakers successfully derailed the regulation. During the 2018 hearings, several senators quoted the New York Times article and questioned Ms. King on the NHTSA’s inaction in the face of such a danger.

Unfortunately, Ms. King could not provide clear answers as to when, or even if, these regulations would finally be enforced. “You can’t trust car corporations to police themselves,” Uustal told the New York Times.

Uustal has interrogated and cross-examined automotive engineers from General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Nissan, Toyota, Audi and Volkswagen. “There are some good engineers at these companies, no doubt about it, but sometimes they get overruled by bosses who only care about profit, no matter how many people it kills.”