In the mid-90's, car manufacturers began to introduce "smart keys," which are keyless ignition systems that allow the vehicle to start and stop the engine without having to insert a key into the ignition switch. With a smart key, a small device known as a key fob transmits a signal to an onboard computer letting it know when the key is within a certain range of the vehicle. Once the key is close enough to the vehicle, the driver can simply push a button to start the engine. The same button is typically used to cut the engine off once the driver's destination has been reached.
The idea behind smart keys is one of convenience. They allow the driver to start and stop the engine while the key remains in the driver's pocket or purse. Smart keys have become increasingly prevalent in newly manufactured vehicles, often coming as standard issue. But critics of smart keys argue that they do not adhere with important vehicle safety designs mandated by the federal government in order to protect the public. Specifically, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 114 requires all vehicles be placed in "park" before a key can be removed. This helps prevent an unwitting driver from exiting the vehicle while still in "drive," causing the vehicle to continue rolling after the driver exits. It also requires that vehicles should be unable to start without a key being placed in the ignition switch.
Smart keys do not meet either of these requirements and cause safety risks to drivers as a result.
An obvious safety issue with smart keys is that they allow a driver to exit the vehicle while the vehicle is still in drive. This leads to unintended rolling that runs the risk of causing severe injuries or property damage.
If the vehicle is not manually turned off by the driver, smart keys are designed to allow the vehicle's engine to run indefinitely, even once the key fob is out of signal range from the onboard computer. This has led to a number of people being killed in their home by carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that is emitted from a car's engine while it's running. In the cases that led to carbon monoxide poisoning, drivers pulled their vehicle into their garage and exited the vehicle not knowing the car engine was still running. Carbon monoxide from the running engine spread in the garage and into the home, poisoning the homeowners while they slept.
Solutions to the Safety Hazards
One solution that has been proposed to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is introducing an internal and external auditory warning to the driver and near bystanders that alerts them if the key fob is exiting the vehicle while the engine is still running or is not placed in "park." The agency also rejected a requirement that would prevent the propulsion system from shutting down unless the car was in park.
While smart keys have brought a number of conveniences to motorists across the country, it is important to understand their limitations when it comes to preventing common mistakes that can lead to serious injury. If you've been injured in a car accident that may have been caused by a smart key, you need to speak with an experienced car accident attorney to learn about your rights. Contact our law firm today for a free one-on-one consultation.