Ever cursed your luck for having forgotten your car keys inside the vehicle, with the windows having been rolled up? It’s probably happened to most of us at some point of time in our lives, making us wish that we could somehow get rid of the need for keys altogether. Well, someone out there was listening (Siemens, to be specific) and decided to do something about it, leading to the invention of keyless ignition systems in cars.
While the technology had been in development for a while, the first automotive company to implement keyless ignition was Mercedes-Benz, who introduced it in their W220 S-Class model in 1998 under the name ‘Key-less Go’. All you had to do was to have the key fob on you as you entered the car and simply pushed a button in order to activate the ignition. The Smart Key system revolutionized the idea of access and authorization within the automobile industry and soon companies such as Cadillac, Lexus and Rolls-Royce started rolling out cars that had keyless-ignition or push-button start systems installed in them.
As of today, it seems pretty natural to have a keyless ignition system in your car. In fact, it would seem rather odd to most if their cars didn’t have one. It is quite convenient to have it, just as having touchscreen infotainment panels in their vehicles is considered to be a boon by many. However, in the way that those touchscreen panels can act as a distraction, sometimes even having led to accidents on account of drivers taking their eyes off the road for a split second, keyless ignition systems can have their downsides too.
One such hazard was recently brought to light by a New York Times report that spoke of a married couple (Sherry Penney and James Livingston) who died of carbon monoxide poisoning after their 2017 Toyota Avalon was accidentally left running in their garage. The Toyota Avalon has a stop/start function that switches the engine off while the ignition is still on, in order to save fuel. While the carbon monoxide created by a running engine shouldn’t matter much if your vehicle’s been parked in an open area, the concentration of the gas produced in an enclosed space (an attached garage, for example), especially by a cold engine, can prove to be fatal, as can be witnessed by the report mentioned above.
Now, certain global organizations such as the SAE International have proposed safety standards that require vehicles with keyless ignition systems to give out a warning (such as in the form of an adequately audible beeping sound) in such cases or employ an automatic shutoff feature, but the additional costs that these features imply have caused automotive companies to resist the proposal (Toyota, however, has said that it will be implementing the automatic shutoff features in all its models from the year 2020 which possess keyless ignition systems).
Till such features are implemented, it is imperative that the owners of such vehicles are aware of and understand how keyless ignition systems operate and the hazards that they pose. So, if you do own a car with keyless ignition that does not yet have an automatic shutoff feature, make it a habit to check whether the ignition has been turned off before you leave the car.