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NHTSA Seeks to Standardize Keyless Ignition Systems

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Range Rover start buttonBecause of problems that have occurred when some drivers of cars with push-button ignition starters have tried to turn their cars off, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is calling for uniformity in all keyless ignition systems. NHTSA said on Friday that it wants to standardize the time it takes to push the button to stop a car’s engine, and to mandate warning sounds for drivers who exit vehicles without actually turning the engines off, or who try to turn the cars off without first putting them into park.

David Shepardson writes for The Detroit News:

The safety agency is proposing a standard half-second hold time to shut down vehicles, less than the three seconds some automakers have used. The engine would have to stop running within a second of the initial push of the stop control.

The rules could also prevent rollaway vehicles, thefts from motorists who forgot to stop cars and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Shepardson reports that in the 2008 model year, there were 1.2 million vehicles with push-button ignition systems, as compared with only 5,000 vehicles in the model year 2002. Right now, the keyless ignition systems vary, with some cars turning on or off with just a tap of the button, and others taking longer.

NHTSA will give automakers at least two years to make the changes, which Chris Woodyard writes in USA TODAY would cost less than $500,000 a year to implement for all automakers. Companies would need to change the software coding and test the new procedures, Shepardson writes.

“We learned through our investigation of unintended acceleration in certain Toyota vehicles that keyless ignition systems can exacerbate unintended acceleration incidents if, for example, the driver cannot quickly shut off the engine,” said David Strickland, NHTSA administrator.

A push-button starter played a role in a fatal car accident in 2009 that left four people dead. In that incident, an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer and his passenger could not get the loaned Lexus he was driving to stop. Shepardson writes that the Lexus ES-350 “had an entrapped floormat and eventually sparked Toyota Motor Corp.’s recall of more than 10 million vehicles for trapped pedals and sticky pedals.”

The driver and passenger didn’t know that the button had to be pressed for three seconds in order to turn the motor off. Woodyard writes: “Toyota stands by the delay as a safety feature to prevent cars from accidentally being turned off and has never labeled them to indicate the three-second rule.”

Shepardson writes:

NHTSA said its proposed regulation would also help prevent carbon monoxide incidents for drivers who didn’t realize they had left the vehicle on. Four drivers told NHTSA over the last decade their carbon monoxide detectors in garages went off after they accidentally left the car running. The owner of a 2007 Lexus LS460 told NHTSA it was a danger because the vehicle is very quiet when idling.

Image by London Flash Cars, used under its Creative Commons license.


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