Keyless Ignition Deaths Mount as Regulators and Auto Manufacturers Slow to Act

"Every death today could be prevented." from Scripps News Washington Bureau on Vimeo.

Kreindler Partner Noah Kushlefsky filed his own public comment, urging the agency to implement an automatic shut-off for any vehicle left running for a period of significant inactivity, noting a "20 dollar coffee pot" has something similar and is an inexpensive solution. He says many cars already shut down on their own after 15 minutes of inactivity if a driver uses a remote start feature, and says they can easily be reprogrammed to do the same for push button ignitions without any additional hardware.

NHTSA said it considered requiring an auto shut-down feature, but in its 2011 proposal wrote "there are scenarios, such as leaving pets in the vehicle with the air conditioning or heating system on while the driver shops or is at a restaurant, where an automatic shut-off of the propulsion system would have adverse results."

Kushlefsky fired back, noting that leaving a pet alone in an unattended vehicle that is still running constitutes a violation of the law in 45 out of 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The public comment period for NHTSA's proposed rule closed more than three years ago, in March 2012. The agency had been expected to announce a final rule by this November, but now says it will need more time "to review all comments received, suggestions and options before it can make the appropriate, safest and correct rule." NHTSA expects to issue a final rule in February 2016.

In 2005, only 2 percent of vehicles across all manufacturers offered keyless ignition as a standard feature on at least one model, according to The technology has exploded in popularity in recent years, with nearly 70 percent of 2015 models offering it as standard, according to the online auto information company.

Some manufacturers have quietly begun to implement auto shut-offs on their newest model cars. The owners' manual for the 2015 Lincoln MKX notes it is now equipped with "a feature that automatically shuts down (the vehicle) if the engine is idling for 30 minutes."

Scripps News asked Ford, the owner of the Lincoln brand, and 11 other automakers if they intended to implement auto shut-off devices for any current or older model that remains on the road without the feature.

Only Chrysler responded directly to the question. The company confirmed it does not have a vehicle in its fleet with the auto shut-off feature, but says "customers are urged to follow the shutoff instructions in their owners' manuals."

Kelli Felker, safety communications manager for Ford, said instead the automaker would meet any new rule NHTSA implemented and added, "Ford vehicles equipped with keyless ignition alert drivers when the driver's door is open and the vehicle's engine is running."

In an application for a U.S. patent for an auto shut-off device, published in May 2013, Ford Global Technologies, a subsidiary of Ford Motor Company, notes that on keyless ignition cars a driver "may unintentionally leave the vehicle with the engine idling" and acknowledges "advancements in engine technology have made vehicle engines quieter" which can "further increase the likelihood that a vehicle operator may leave the vehicle with the engine running."

That is what happened to Pasquale Fontanini, 80, and his wife Rina, 76. According to police reports the elderly couple mistakenly left their 2013 Lincoln MKS, manufactured by Ford, running in their garage. They were found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning in their Highland Park, Ill., home.