Cars With Keyless Ignitions Are Becoming Stylish… And Extremely Dangerous
By Zac Pingle, Staff Writer
Since Mercedes-Benz released the first keyless ignition system in the 1999 S Class, the feature has soared in popularity. Of course, it makes sense that the keyless ignition would become popular because of its futuristic style. Even gearshifts in automatic transmissions can come with a push button feature. However, as any car safety engineer will tell you, having a standardized gear shift and ignition system is crucial to designing a safe car.
Not a New Problem
Changing standards in gearshift standards is a historically bad idea. “Unsafe at Any Speed” by Ralph Nader, explains that back in the 1960s even the most basic safety features were not included in car design, including dangers of not having gear shifts in the “Park, Reverse, Neutral, Drive” pattern.
Think about it, how much would it impact your ability to operate a vehicle if the shift pattern started with drive or neutral? This was exactly the problem in early 1960s vehicles. For example, the Chevrolet Corvair used the pattern of “Reverse, Neutral, Drive, Low Gear” without even implementing a parking brake gear position. Since then, it has actually become a legal safety standard to have all gear shifts in the same pattern.
So if gear patterns are all the same then what’s the problem? One car in particular really defines how having a push button ignition and push button gear shift can be a major safety concern. The 2014 Lincoln MKC had both push button ignition and gear selection that was located to the right of the steering wheel. The gear pattern was “Park, Reverse, Neutral, Drive, Sport,” however, the ignition button was directly beneath the “Sport” button and both buttons looked very similar. You can probably guess what the result was. When drivers were heading down the road at about 60 or 70 miles per hour and decided to put their cars into “sport,” their cars would slam into a lower speed because of the driver accidentally hitting the ignition button. Lincoln soon recalled the vehicle and fixed the mistake by moving the ignition button to the top of the shift pattern.
How Big Has the Impact Been?
Tragically, keyless ignition systems have caused casualties in recent years. The main problem is that the motion of turning a key to turn off a car has been ingrained most drivers, causing people to forget that their cars are still running. There have been many cases in which keyless car owners have forgotten that their cars are still running inside of their garages. This leads to carbon monoxide leaking into their homes, which can cause permanent brain damage and death in some cases.
The problem in this situation is that the device that unlocks and allows the car to start in the drivers presence, called a “key fob,” is not a flawless device. While a key fob will only allow the car to start while in a close proximity, it does not have any way of stopping the engine from running when the key fob is out of range. This results in cars running for hours until they either run out of gas or until the car owner returns.
Another defect is that keyless cars, unlike traditional key switch cars, can be shut off in any gear mode. This has resulted in cars rolling away unexpectedly and causing serious injury or death to the owner or other nearby persons.
If these defects with push button ignitions and gearshifts are not fixed, it is likely that these incidents will only continue. Nearly every major car company has some form of keyless ignition system as standard or as an optional feature. These companies and their programs are:
Lexus has “Smart Access”
BMW has “Comfort Access”
Ford has “Intelligent Access”
Nissan has “Intelligent Key”
Toyota has “Smart Key”
Audi has “Advanced Key”
Hyundai has “Proximity Key”
Mercedes has “Keyless Go”
GM has “Passive Entry Passive Start”
And Volkswagen has “KESSY” which is an acronym for “Keyless Entry & Keyless Start”
Safety Measures That Have Been Taken
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has created a legal provision update of the Title 49 114 Standard (prevention of theft and rollaway) in response to the numerous reports of push button related deaths and injuries. Even now, many lawyers use the existing provision to show that car manufacturers have blatantly ignored the law. Specifically, keyless ignition systems violate clauses in the provision that requires a car to be in “Park” before the key can be removed, and that a key cannot be removed after a car has started.
There are also certain steps that consumers can take that will help prevent push button injuries.
Step 1: Make a list of steps to follow when starting and shutting off the vehicle like to remember to put the car in park and to shut the car off last when all other steps have been taken.
Step 2: Ask your dealer how to properly use your vehicle. Sure, the step seems tedious and unnecessary to some people, but cars these days have too many features to count and can sometimes be complicated to operate. Even reading the user manual couldn’t hurt (but let’s face it, nobody really does that unless they’re frustrated with a car’s navigation system).
Step 3: Install a carbon monoxide detector in your garage or near it. These devices really can save lives, and it’s also important to periodically make sure that your carbon monoxide detectors have charged batteries and are operational.
Step 4: Color code your ignition and park buttons. You don’t have to use permanent marker or anything. Brightly colored sticky notes, or something else that is bright and will grab your attention, will help you remember to push the ignition or “Park” button before you leave your vehicle.