Kelley Uustal Trial Attorney
June 20, 2019

Toyota Introduces Automatic Engine Shut Off to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Deaths

Earlier this month, Toyota Motor North America announced a new feature to be included with most Model 2020 vehicles: Automatic Engine Shut Off. On its website, the company stated, “The Auto Shut Off feature will automatically shut off the engine after a pre-determined period of time in the event the vehicle is left running. Future enhancements will include smartphone App capabilities as an added reminder.”

The technology update was announced only weeks after two physicians, Dr. Sherry Hood Penney and Dr. James Livingston, lost their lives in Sarasota after inadvertently leaving their Toyota Avalon running in their garage. The 2017 vehicle featured keyless ignition, and the victims died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

In a recent exposé about the dangers of keyless ignition, consumer advocacy website “Safety Research & Strategies Inc.” said the distinguished doctors, who had prominent academic careers, had “died of indifference.”

Statistics show that no other car manufacturer has been connected to more carbon monoxide deaths involving keyless ignition vehicles. As of June 2019, 17 people have been poisoned to death after unknowingly leaving keyless ignition cars running. The deaths involving Toyota cars account for nearly half of the 37 fatalities reported in the U.S. so far.

Toyota/Lexus Keyless Ignition Fatalities that Made The News

2006, Florida:David and Jeanette Colter, both died of carbon monoxide poisoning.Vehicle: Toyota Avalon2009, New York:Mary Rivera died and her partner, Ernest Codelia Jr., suffered permanent brain damage.Vehicle: 2008 Lexus sedan2010, Florida:Chasity Glisson died and her boyfriend was seriously injured.Vehicle: Lexus IS2502012, Florida:Gerald Zitser died of carbon monoxide poisoning.Vehicle: Toyota Avalon2017, Florida:Fred Schaub died of carbon monoxide poisoning.Vehicle: Toyota RAV42019, Pennsylvania:Russell Fish, an army veteran, and his dog died.Vehicle: Toyota 4Runner

As early as 2011, the Society of Automotive Engineers raised concerns about the dangers of keyless ignition, calling for either a series of beeps to alert consumers when they had left their cars running or an auto-shutoff feature. It took dozens of fatal victims and nearly a decade for Toyota to offer a solution.

Considering that keyless ignition was first introduced by Mercedes Benz in 1998 and entered the U.S. market as early as 2002, the time it has taken for some car manufacturers to address its many associated dangers is shocking.

Smart keys have been advertised as a convenient way to start modern cars without the need for a mechanical key. Initially, there were concerns about the technology’s added risk of theft. As early as 2002, however, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warned manufacturers about potential problems involving human error. Over 12 years ago, the agency said in an informative notice that, “a warning must be sufficient to catch a driver’s attention before he or she exits the vehicle without the keys.”

In 2011, the NHTSA directly referred to Toyota incidents in a new regulation proposal. But the rule was never implemented following counterarguments from the industry.

Earlier this year, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced a bill to address keyless ignitionrisks. Known as the “Protecting Americans from the Risks of Keyless Ignition Technology (PARK IT) Act,” the proposed legislation would require all manufacturers, not only Toyota, to implement auto-shutoff in its keyless ignition models.

“Basic safety standards and technology can protect owners of keyless ignition cars from the threat posed by carbon monoxide poisoning and rollaways. NHTSA’s failure to act is indefensible and has tragic and fatal consequences. Congress must move swiftly to pass the PARK IT Act and compel NHTSA to do its job,” Senator Blumenthal said in a statement.

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