Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards
Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) are a series of regulations developed and enforced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to help ensure motor vehicles are safe to operate and protect passengers in case of an accident. It is a part of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 49.
It sets standards related to the design, construction and safety performance for all passenger vehicles as well as motorcycles and school buses, and all manufacturers must follow the standards in order to sell their product within the U.S.
The FMVSS is separated into three categories addressing crash avoidance, crashworthiness and post-crash survivability covering nearly all aspects of automotive design. The design features include ignition and fuel systems, transmission and braking components, tires and steering, displays and lights, windshield and mirror specifications, seat and seatbelt requirements, impact protection and more.
As stated in the text, the purpose of section 114 is to reduce crashes resulting from theft and vehicle rollaway with standards designed to “decrease the likelihood that a vehicle is stolen, or accidentally set in motion.”
The purpose of this standard is to decrease the likelihood that a vehicle is stolen, or accidentally set in motion.
One case handled by Krendler & Kreindler found that keyless push-button ignitions may have violated this particular section of the FMVSS. These “smart key” systems allow a car to be started without the use of a mechanical key; instead, they are started using a key fob to activate the ignition button when in close proximity to the car. However, the systems also allow a driver to leave a vehicle without shutting it down. In 2009, a university professor unknowingly left her car running in her garage after exiting her vehicle with the remote ignition device, known as a key fob. The car’s exhaust fumes filled her home while she slept, causing irreparable brain damage and killing her partner.
Kreindler investigations found that this tragedy was not an isolated incident. In many models, cars failed to shut off after the driver and the key fob left the vehicle, leading to several more deaths due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Other reports noted that vehicles were inadvertently being left in gear allowing cars to roll while unattended.
In section 114, there is a regulation requiring that a vehicle cannot be operated after the key is removed from the ignition. There is also another regulation that states that in an automatic transmission vehicle the key cannot be removed unless the gearshift is in the “park” position to prevent the car from being left in gear and rolling away.
"When you're disassociated from the car by removal of the mechanical key, it's an easy step to forget"
When Kriendler attorneys began their case, most smart key systems allowed an engine to run indefinitely even after the driver exited the vehicle, and the key fob was outside the signal range. They also allowed the car to be shut down while still in “drive,” making the vehicle susceptible to unintended and dangerous rolling.
Although the NHTSA proposed a rule to require an alarm in the event a driver, along with the fob, left the vehicle while it was still running, the proposal was strongly opposed by automobile companies. Since then, there have been no updates to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards; however, some manufacturers have implemented automatic shutoff features to their keyless systems.