Mass. lawmaker demands new safety standards for keyless cars

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BOSTON, Mass. (WPRI) — A Massachusetts lawmaker wants to force car manufacturers to install automatic shutoffs on keyless vehicles.

The bill, filed this week by Rep. Lori Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, would require “any manufacturer distributing motor vehicles intended for sale in the Commonwealth” to install automatic engine shutoff technology in cars with keyless ignitions.

It would also prohibit dealers from selling or leasing keyless vehicles in Massachusetts that are not equipped with automatic shutoffs.

In a statement, Ehrlich said, “I became increasingly concerned about the lack of consumer protections available in Massachusetts concerning these vehicles and the drawn-out fight at the federal level to regulate car manufacturers.”

As Target 12 reported, at least 34 carbon monoxide deaths across the country have been linked to keyless ignition systems.

In Florida in 2012, Jerry Zitser died after carbon monoxide seeped into his home for hours after he left his car running in the garage. His daughter, Suzi Zitser, said his key fob was in his shirt pocket.

One year earlier, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) acknowledged the safety concerns associated with keyless technology including carbon monoxide poisoning and roll-away incidents. There was even a proposal for new safety standards, but eight years later, the rules have not changed.

“The bill in Massachusetts appears to be a response to continued inaction by the federal safety agency – the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – to provide up-to-date vehicle rules,” auto safety expert Sean Kane said. “Keyless ignitions have introduced hazards that were largely eliminated by the regulations that applied to vehicles with traditional metal keys.”

“If you have a metal car key in your pocket you could be assured of two things: the engine is off and the transmission is in park,” he added. “With a keyless ignition key fob, neither one of these is necessarily true.”

Ehrlich’s proposed law would also bar rental car companies from renting keyless vehicles in Massachusetts unless they’re equipped with automatic shutoffs.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents a dozen carmakers in the U.S., told Target 12 that automakers follow current safety standards.

“Current keyless ignition system designs generally follow the recommended practices of the Society of Automotive Engineers, addressing operating logic, indication of vehicle ignition/control status and the physical control characteristics of keyless ignition systems,” said Wade Newton, a spokesperson for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

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