Blumenthal & Markey Introduce Bill to Protect Against Keyless Car Carbon Monoxide & Rollaway Risks

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) introduced the Protecting Americans from the Risks of Keyless Ignition Technology (PARK IT) Act today to address the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning and vehicle rollaways associated with keyless ignition technology in vehicles. The legislation requires the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to finalize a rule that vehicles automatically shut off after a period of time to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, and a rule that sets a performance standard to prevent rollaways.

“Basic keyless ignition safety standards—mandated by this bill—are way overdue,” said Blumenthal. “It would force DOT to issue rules that could have avoided injuries and deaths. Preventing carbon monoxide poisonings and rollaway incidents can help save lives.”

“The DOT must ensure that novel transportation technologies help eradicate the auto safety challenges of the 20th century, not pose additional dangers in the 21st century," said Markey. “With deaths attributable to keyless ignitions mounting, it's time to set safety standards to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning and vehicle rollaways.”

Keyless ignitions have been found to increase the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning with drivers unintentionally leaving the vehicle in park but not turning off its engine. A vehicle left running in an attached garage can quickly fill the home with lethal levels of carbon monoxide. Keyless ignitions are now standard in more than half of the 17 million new vehicles sold annually in the United States. A 2018 The New York Times investigation found at least 28 deaths and 45 injuries since 2006 tied to carbon monoxide poisoning caused by vehicles with keyless ignitions inadvertently left idling.

Keyless ignitions have also increased the problem of car rollaways. Drivers of vehicles with keyless ignitions can power down a vehicle without putting the vehicle in “park.” This may result in the vehicle rolling away and causing death, injury, or destruction of property. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Not-In-Traffic Surveillance research has shown that rollaways cause approximately 150 deaths and 2,000 injuries annually. 

In 2011, NHTSA issued a draft rule to address keyless ignition risks, but it has never been finalized. Following The New York Times report, Blumenthal and U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) wrote NHSTA Deputy Administrator Heidi King demanding the agency finalize and implement its rule. The full text of that letter is available here.

While DOT has failed to finalize a rule, some automakers, including General Motors and Ford, have proactively taken steps to curb these hazards, implementing additional safety features like auto shut-off systems to prevent CO poisoning. Without a final rule, however, most automakers have not addressed the various risks posed by keyless ignition technology.

The PARK IT Act has been endorsed by Safety Research and Strategies, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Center for Auto Safety, and Consumer Reports.

“Modern vehicles present opportunities for improving safety, but the introduction of new features has created hazards that aren’t directly addressed by outdated safety standards,” said Sean Kane, Founder and President of Safety Research and Strategies. “The PARK IT Act will close these loopholes by requiring DOT to update rollaway prevention and engine ignition rules, ensuring all new keyless vehicles prevent unsafe conditions that the regulations were intended to address.”

“Vehicle convenience features should not create lethal hazards. Forgetting to turn off a vehicle with a push button start should not lead to carbon monoxide poisoning exposure. Mistakenly neglecting to put a car into the park gear before exiting should not result in a roll-away crash,” said Cathy Chase, President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “These are solvable problems and the PARK IT Act addresses them by requiring auto makers to add features to prevent a common mental lapse from becoming an irreversible tragedy. Once again, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ed Markey (D-MA) have demonstrated their leadership and dedication to improving safety and consumer protection. It’s time for Congress to advance this sensible legislation.” 

“New technology in cars should make our lives safer, better, and easier,” said Jason Levine, Executive Director, Center for Auto Safety. “If manufacturers can remove the need for keys to start our cars they can also remove the possibility that our cars will poison us or roll over us when we exit the vehicle, as has already happened far too often. The PARK IT Act is designed to address this problem directly, and hopefully prevent more unnecessary deaths resulting from simple human error.”  

“Simple, available automotive features can dramatically reduce the risk of a rollaway or carbon monoxide poisoning. The PARK IT Act would ensure these safeguards work well and are included as standard equipment going forward. Nobody should suffer a preventable death or injury because of poorly designed controls or a memory lapse,” said William Wallace, manager of safety policy for Consumer Reports.

The text of the Senate legislation can be found here.

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