Keyless ignition raising safety issues

Feb 27, 2011

Keyless ignition might be a convenient feature for your automobile, but recent complaints and tragic incidents prove that it can also open up a whole new set of safety concerns, according to Edmunds’

Recent news reports, together with data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) complaint database, suggest a growing pattern of keyless-start-related mishaps. The issues range from simple failures to lock cars to more serious cases such as carbon monoxide poisoning. In the latter case, it appears that some drivers are forgetting to shut the engine off after parking the vehicle in their garage, even though these systems are supposed to alert drivers when the key fob is removed from the cabin while the engine is running.

“Most drivers have spent years inserting a key and turning it to start the engine, then removing the key to shut the engine off, but keyless start completely does away with this familiar process,” says’s senior analyst, Karl Brauer. “Now that modern engines are so smooth and quiet, people are not surprisingly walking away from their vehicles with the engine still running.”

Accidents and complaints with keyless ignition are becoming more common as the technology continues to rapidly spread. Since 2006 the number of models offering keyless start has grown from 40 to 163, which is over half of all new car and light truck models sold in the U.S.

Complicating the issue is the debate over who’s at fault in mishaps tied to the technology. As demonstrated by the introduction of anti-lock breaking systems more than 20 years ago, a change in driver behavior is necessary for many new car features to work most effectively and safely.

“While these ‘technological backfires’ can’t be directly tied to design flaws or vehicle defects, they are yet another example of the unforeseen consequences that often accompany technological ‘advancement,’” said Brauer. “You can bet automakers will be re-evaluating keyless start and driver behavior in an attempt to quell this latest technological backfire.”