Hidden Danger From Keyless Ignition Systems

A Dallas mom is warning about the potential dangers from keyless ignition systems, now common in many new cars.

"I cringe when I think what would have happened," said Lindsay Wilcox, who worked for many years at NBC 5.

"When you have three kids under 7, life is always chaotic, and it's always distracted, and it's always loud and your mind is always in three different places," said Wilcox.

With a fourth child on the way, Wilcox purchased a new minivan in April, one equipped with a keyless ignition system.

Just days later, she left it running in the garage for a full hour, directly below her 2-year-old son's bedroom.

"I would swear to you that I turned it off, but apparently I didn't hit if hard enough or whatever," said Wilcox.

Exhaust fumes and carbon monoxide began to seep into the house until her 7-year-old daughter walked toward the garage.

"She went to the laundry room to open the door, and when she opened it she said, 'Mom, the car's still running!'" said Wilcox. "I panicked. I went flying outside and opened up the garage door, and held my breath, and ran outside to turned it off really quick."

No one got sick, but with often no place to plug in a key fob, she's not the only driver to leave the car engine running.

According to the non-profit child safety organization KidsAndCars.org, at least 21 people have died from carbon monoxide poisoning due to keyless ignition vehicles.

With a keyless ignition system, the engine doesn't automatically shutoff when the key fob is removed from the car, requiring drivers to press the start/stop button.

"Twenty-five years of driving with keys, it's just a habit that you have and you take that away, and it's just easy to make that mistake," said Wilcox.

"The key fob plays a role in starting the car, but it plays absolutely no role in shutting the car off," said safety advocate Sean Kane, with Safety Research & Strategies.

"At the end of the day, what needs to happen is an automatic shut-off device," Kane added.

Federal safety regulators continue to study the issue, and some carmakers have already added a fix.

"Most cars, when you open the door, it will chime at you and it's going to tell you that you've left the car running," said Sue Chrysler, senior research scientist at Texas A&M Transportation Institute. "You need to pay attention to that."

The auto industry faces several lawsuits over the issue, and a few cars do have automatic shut-offs.

In a statement sent to NBC 5, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers spokesperson Wade Newton wrote:

"Auto safety is our top priority, and automakers are introducing new protocols consistent with the Recommended Practices recently finalized by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). That includes recommendations that deal with operating logic, indication of vehicle ignition/control status and the physical control characteristics of keyless ignitions systems. The recommendations also address uniform labeling - all of this so consumers can have an even better understanding of keyless systems functions."

Wilcox's car does have a chime, but she said she didn't hear it when she got out of the car, leaving it running as she went inside the house with the key fob in her purse.

Now, she has several carbon monoxide detectors inside her Dallas home.

"I'm so paranoid about it at this point because of what almost happened, it'll probably never happen, but heaven forbid it did," said Wilcox. "You can't be too safe."

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