Keyless Cars Linked to Carbon Monoxide Deaths

If you have a keyless start car in your garage, be forewarned that it can cause a carbon monoxide death of you and your family


First developed by Siemens in 1995, the keyless start feature of an automobile was first introduced on the 1998 Mercedes-Benz W220 S-Class. At first, only the luxury car manufacturers offered it as either standard equipment or an option on their cars. However, beginning in the 2000s more and more cars were equipped with the feature.

By 2002, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) realized there was a problem and it issued a warning to automakers that keyless ignition cars were susceptible to human error that could cause catastrophic consequences. It noticed that owners of these cars were forgetting to turn them off.  In 2006, NHTSA issued an update again warning automakers to the problem.

In 2009, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) noticed that there was a problem and suggested that carmakers who offered the feature on their cars include externally audible or visual alerts on them to remind drivers to turn them off before exiting. It also called for an optional shutoff function to prevent the problem. That same year, NHTSA proposed a key fob rule that required carmakers to provide internal and external warning beeps. Although it considered the SAE’s recommendation to include a shutoff function, the agency decided that its proposal would be “more enforceable.” The auto industry opposed the proposal.

The New York Times has been investigating the issue since 2006 and has discovered that 28 people have died of carbon monoxide poisoning caused when a keyless ignition vehicle was mistakenly left running. Another 45 have been injured.

Today keyless ignition systems exist on more than half of the 17 million new vehicles sold in the United States each year.

How Keyless Cars Work

Today keyless ignition on cars is known by a number of different names including SMART Key, Keyless Go, FAST Key, Intelligent Key, and Comfort Access. The car does not include the traditional key ignition. Instead, the driver has a key fob that emits a low frequency radio ID that opens the car’s doors and disarms the ignition immobilizer so that a simple push of a button on the car’s dashboard starts the car. However, the driver of the car must remember to push the button to turn the engine off.

Keyless Car Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Lawsuits

There are a number of examples of people who have died because of keyless start automobiles and lawsuits have been filed around the country as a result.

In Highland Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, a couple was found dead in their home due to carbon monoxide poisoning that came from their keyless car that was mistakenly left running in the garage.

In August 2015 a class action lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles Federal Court on behalf of keyless car drivers who have died or survived carbon monoxide poisoning after forgetting to manually shut off the engine. The suit claimed that at least 13 people were killed and there were a number of close calls. It added that, “Reasonable drivers mistakenly believe that removing the keyless fob from the vehicle turns off the engine.”

Defendants of the lawsuit include Toyota, Ford, Nissan, Honda, General Motors, BMW, Volkswagen, Bentley, Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai and Kia and it claims that they knew or should have known of the risk. The suit added that the manufacturers allegedly sold keyless fobs “without instituting adequate safeguards, warnings, or other safety features” like an inexpensive auto-off feature that automatically turns off the engine if the car is unattended.

Some of the cars were equipped with audible alerts, which sounded when the driver exits the vehicle when the engine is still on.

The lawsuit also claims that, “…for years the Automakers have known about the deadly consequences that can result when a driver exits a vehicle without the keyless fob and without having depressed the start/stop button. Nevertheless, even though an auto-off feature can be implemented without significant effort or cost, the Automakers have refused to act.”

Prior to 2007, NHTSA received a number of complaints from owners of keyless cars about the lack of an auto-off feature. In 2007, Ford and General Motors filed patents showing that they had come up with ways to address the problem. The two car manufacturers supposedly demonstrated their fixes, thus showing that they knew of the risk.

Some of the car manufacturers mentioned in the suit did install an auto-off feature in later models. However, the suit asserts that they failed to recall the earlier models or offer auto-off software updates.

Victims of carbon monoxide poisoning due to keyless cars have initiated lawsuits and some have settled prior to this suit, which seeks class action status to represent all owners of models of cars that include the keyless start feature.

What Are The Effects Of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that is in fumes produced by burning fuel in cars, trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, and furnaces.

More than 400 Americans die each year due to unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning not linked to fires. More than 20,000 victims visit the emergency room and more than 4,000 are hospitalized per year.

Long term effects of the poisoning include:

  • • Brain damage
  • • Heart problems
  • • Memory loss
  • • Poor concentration
  • • Speech impairments
  • • Depression
  • • Muscle shakes, stiffness or slow movement
  • • Blindness
  • • Deafness
  • • Pregnancy miscarriage or stillbirth
  • • Neurological problems
  • • Coma
  • • Death

Precautions To Take To Prevent Carbon Monoxide From Cars

If you own a car that includes keyless start, it is essential that you take precautions. They include always checking to ensure that the vehicle is turned off before walking away from it, always take the key fob with you, listen for any auditory warnings before closing your garage door, never leave a key fob in the vehicle, store the key fob at least 20 feet away from the vehicle, and purchase and install a carbon monoxide detector for your car in your garage. There are also portable detectors that you can keep in your pocket and pull out whenever you want to check the air near the car.

If you or a loved one has become ill or died due to carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a keyless car, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact us for a free case consultation.