GENERAL MOTORS’ ALARMING SILENCE
March 11th, 2018 | Donald C. Ligorio
Introduced to U.S. car buyers in 2002, keyless ignition systems brought drivers a small measure of convenience. But they also created some big problems -- vehicle rollaways and carbon monoxide poisonings. “When you purchase a vehicle, you assume that it has met safety standards. Unfortunately, this is not always the case,” says Attorney Donald Ligorio, Personal Injury Attorney, HKQ Law.
The carbon monoxide problem stemmed from the technology changing the relationship between the driver and the key — without warning the driver of the resulting safety hazards. The keyless fob is necessary to start the vehicle, but it plays no role in turning off the vehicle. Keyless ignition vehicles allow you to take the fob with you, and inadvertently leave the motor running. If the car is parked in a closed environment such as an attached garage, this can be a fatal mistake. Between 2009 and 2016, nineteen carbon monoxide deaths have been specifically attributed to keyless ignition vehicles. There have also been twenty-five “close calls”.
In addition to the carbon monoxide hazard, many keyless ignition models can lead to rollaways. With a traditional ignition system, it is impossible to remove the key without first putting the vehicle in park. But with some keyless ignition systems, the engine can be turned off with the transmission in any position. This makes it possible for the car to simply roll away, potentially creating liability for the owner of a runaway car. In one case, a driver was run over by his own car.
In December 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) acknowledged that keyless ignition vehicles posed a “clear safety problem”. In considering countermeasures, the NHTSA proposed rules to require an exterior alarm system to warn drivers who walk away from a car that’s still running. Unfortunately that proposal wasn’t widely embraced by the automobile industry, because annoying customers with buzzers and beeps is seen as a cardinal automotive design sin. At the time, the NHTSA rejected the idea of an automatic engine shut-off. The agency reasoned that “There are scenarios, such as leaving pets in the vehicle with the air conditioning or heating system on while the driver shops or is at a restaurant, where an automatic shut off of the propulsion system would have adverse results. It is our understanding that some drivers may stay in their vehicles for hours, for example, to sleep, with the air conditioning or heating system on. For the pet owner or the person staying in the vehicle for an extended period, it would be inconvenient if the propulsion system had to be restarted every 15 minutes or so.”
General Motors and Ford were obviously undeterred by the fact that an automatic engine shut-off was not on the table for NHTSA. In 2012 both automobile manufacturers implemented automatic engine shut down features in some of their model year 2013 vehicles. Ford did so without fanfare, quietly putting the engine shut-down information in the owner’s manuals. GM was completely silent on the issue, choosing not to tell customers or even dealership techs about this feature until long after it was implemented in its vehicles.
GM’s surreptitious implementation of the engine shutdown feature raised the suspicion of Safety Research & Strategies, Inc. The nationally known firm which specializes in vehicle and product safety research and advocacy, posed a number of questions:
Why the big secret?
What does NHTSA know about this?
How many other automakers have secretly added the countermeasure?
All good questions which need to be answered.
If you’ve been seriously injured as a result of a motor vehicle defect, call HKQ Law at (800) 760-1529 to schedule your no-obligation consultation.