Blumenthal, Fischer & Markey Introduce Bill to Protect Consumers from Keyless Car Carbon Monoxide Risks

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Today, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Deb Fischer (R-NE), and Edward J. Markey (D-MA), members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, introduced legislation to address the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning associated with keyless ignition technology in vehicles. The bipartisan Stop CO Poisoning Exposures (SCOPE) Act requires the Secretary of the Department of Transportation (DOT) to finalize a rule that cars automatically shut off after a period of time to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. This bill would authorize DOT to establish different periods after which a vehicle would have to shut off, as different vehicles emit carbon monoxide at different rates. 

“This bipartisan bill requires that DOT protect Americans from fatal risks of carbon monoxide poisoning associated with keyless ignitions,” Blumenthal said. “With keyless ignitions now standard in the vast majority of new cars sold, this safeguard cannot wait any longer. Further delay will have more devastating consequences—heartbreak too many families have already suffered.”

“Americans with keyless ignition vehicles can accidentally leave their car running, resulting in carbon monoxide poisoning,” Fischer said. “Two years ago, the community of Bellevue, Nebraska, experienced the loss of Thomas and Ann MacKinnon when this happened to them. In response, I have worked with the MacKinnons’ daughter, Sharon Shore, on this important legislation. It will ensure these vehicles automatically shut off after a period of time to prevent these tragedies from occurring in the future.”

“We must ensure that novel transportation technologies help eradicate the auto safety challenges of the 20th century, not pose additional dangers in the 21st century,” Markey said. “With keyless ignitions now standard for most automobiles sold in the United States today -- and deaths attributable to keyless ignitions mounting -- it’s time for the Department of Transportation to set safety standards to protect American drivers from deadly carbon monoxide poisoning.”

Keyless ignitions increase the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning with drivers inadvertently exiting the vehicle while it is in park but not shutting down the vehicle. A vehicle left running in an attached garage can quickly fill living spaces with lethal levels of carbon monoxide. Keyless ignitions are now standard in over 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.

In 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a draft rule to address keyless ignition risks, but the agency has not taken action since. Following The New York Times report, Blumenthal and Markey wrote NHSTA Deputy Administrator Heidi King in May of 2018 demanding the agency finalize and implement its rule. The full text of the Blumenthal-Markey letter is available here.

As NHTSA has failed to finalize its rule, some automakers, including General Motors and Ford, have taken proactive steps to respond to these hazards, implementing additional safety features like auto shut-off systems to prevent CO poisoning. Without a final federal rule, most auto manufacturers have not addressed the various risks posed by keyless ignition technology.

The SCOPE Act has been endorsed by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Center for Auto Safety, Consumer Reports, KidsAndCars.org, and Safety Research & Strategies. 

“Technical loopholes in the current ignition regulation have resulted in keyless ignition designs that lack the safety features found in vehicles with traditional keys, allowing the engine to continue to run even when driver exits the vehicle with the key fob,” said Sean Kane, President of Safety Research & Strategies. “Today’s quiet engines and hybrid models that alternate between gasoline and electric modes add to the problem, because drivers don’t have a clear indication an engine may be on. Since 2012, some automakers have implemented an automatic engine idle shutdown in their keyless ignition vehicles. The SCOPE Act will bring a much-needed update to the safety standard, ensuring all keyless vehicles have a timed engine shut-off feature to prevent carbon monoxide poisonings.”

“Technology has and can solve many dangers and difficulties with motor vehicles. However, it can also create unintended problems,” said Cathy Chase, President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “Such is the case with keyless ignition systems leading to carbon monoxide poisoning. Forgetting to shut your car off should not be lethal. The Stop CO Poisoning Exposures (SCOPE) Act solves this problem and Congress should swiftly enact it. Thank you, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Deb Fischer (R-NE) and Ed Markey (D-MA) for your leadership to end this preventable hazard.”

“The technology exists to prevent carbon monoxide poisonings that can happen when people forget to turn off their car,” said William Wallace, manager of safety policy for Consumer Reports. “The SCOPE Act can help stop these terrible tragedies in the future. Consumer Reports supports the bill because it would ensure safety systems to prevent CO poisoning come standard on new cars, and that they work as they're supposed to.”

Full text of the legislation can be found here.

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