Keyless ignitions linked to carbon monoxide deaths | Allen and Allen

Keyless ignitions linked to carbon monoxide deaths

Keyless ignitions allow cars to be powered on and off with the push of a button. Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a new vehicle for sale without this feature.

According to Edmonds, a website designed to help car shoppers, 91% of 2019 model-year vehicles were equipped with keyless ignitions. This feature has been touted as convenient; it allows people to enter and exit their vehicles without removing the car keys from their pockets or bag. But for some people, their keyless ignition cost them their life.

Keyless ignition button

In 2018, the New York Times published “Deadly Convenience: Keyless Cars and Their Carbon Monoxide Toll.” The article details dozens of deaths that were a result of a keyless vehicle inadvertently left running in the garage.

Many of us know that an engine left running in the garage can have lethal consequences, as gas-powered engines produce high levels of carbon monoxide. But you may not know that keyless ignitions have been linked to an increase in carbon monoxide-related deaths.

Recent carbon monoxide poisoning incidents

  • In Ohio, a man was found dead in his home after he pulled his vehicle into his attached garage and left the engine running overnight. “He parked his Toyota . . . tossed his key fob on the kitchen counter, and sat down for dinner. He later went to sleep and never awoke.”
  • In North Carolina, a man details his experience of suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning after a neighbor in an adjoining townhome left their vehicle running in their garage overnight.
  • In Pennsylvania, a man parked his keyless Toyota 4Runner in his attached garage before going to bed with his dog. Tragically, both were found dead.

Other advances in technology compound the issues with keyless ignitions. For instance, engines found in many modern vehicles can run in “virtual silence.” In fact, hybrid cars have also led to instances of carbon monoxide poisoning. One driver self-reported that he had parked his hybrid vehicle in the garage while running on electric power and neglected to turn the engine off. At the time he parked the vehicle, it was silent. Only after his carbon-monoxide detector sounded did he realize the engine had started while he was in the house.

ATVs in a log cabin garage

Upcoming safety feature: Automatic safety shutoff

The vehicles involved in these cases often were not equipped with an automatic safety shutoff. A vehicle equipped with mechanical safety shutoff technology effectively turns the engine off after idling for a defined period of time. This is necessary to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. To date, vehicle manufacturers are not required to implement this solution, though it would save lives.

Some auto manufacturers have added this technology to their newly-manufactured vehicles, while others have declined to implement what is very inexpensive technology. Thankfully, recent legislation will require the U.S. Department of Transportation (“USDOT”), to regulate keyless ignition vehicles by November 2023.


In 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (the “NHTSA”), publicly recognized the issues associated with keyless ignitions and issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”). This directly referenced “incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning due to drivers inadvertently leaving a vehicle running . . . in an enclosed space, such as a garage adjoining a home.”

However, the NPRM’s proposed solution would require auto manufacturers to implement louder audible warnings when a vehicle is left running and the key fob is carried a specified distance away from the vehicle. The NHTSA expressly declined to “regulate vehicle propulsion automatic shut off systems.” Even so, the proposal did not make it out of the notice and comment period; the audible alert mandate was “criticized . . . for fear of annoying customers,” and for lack of data backing the effectiveness of the warning sound at preventing carbon monoxide-related deaths.

The effort to regulate keyless ignitions is ongoing. In November 2021, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which effectively delegated the task of regulating keyless ignitions to USDOT. The law requires USDOT to issue new keyless ignition safety regulations by November 2023.

person tinkering with carbon monoxide detector

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

As of now, carbon monoxide detectors prove to be the most dependable safety measure. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas, and exposure at high levels is deadly. A carbon monoxide detector will sound if levels reach dangerous heights, measured in parts per million (ppm) of carbon monoxide. These detectors can be battery-operated or plugged into a wall outlet, but wall outlet units must have a battery backup during a power outage.

If you have suffered carbon monoxide poisoning due to the negligence of another, call the experienced personal injury lawyers at Allen & Allen. Your consultation is free, and we are happy to help. Call 866-388-1307 today.