Keyless car owner alert: Carbon monoxide poisonings


keyless ignition photo

If you have a keyless car system, you may be at heightened risk of a potentially deadly problem: More than two dozen people have died and another several dozen others have debilitating illnesses such as brain injuries related to carbon monoxide poisoning, according to a new York Times report: Deadly Convenience: Keyless Cars and Their Carbon Monoxide Toll.

Keyless ignitions are very popular. Citing the auto information website Edmunds, the NYT says keyless systems are now standard in over half of the 17 million new vehicles sold annually in the United States. But because the cars are so easy to turn on and off with the flick of a button, it can be all too easy to become distracted and not turn the car off – or to think it has been turned off when it hasn’t. Consumer Reports describes the problem : “If the car is parked in a closed garage attached to a house, especially a basement-level garage, carbon monoxide fumes from the idling engine may seep into the living area, possibly harming anyone in the house.”

The problem can be even worse with silent hybrids:

“A subset of keyless-ignition cars, hybrids and plug-in hybrids, pose an even stealthier problem, because they are virtually silent when in electric mode, which they may well be when sitting still after parking. A driver doesn’t have to be absent-minded to assume that the car is shut down—after all, the engine isn’t running. But the car may not be truly off. The engine could restart itself, say to address a climate control need, potentially sending carbon monoxide into the residence.”

The risk was identified early by safety advocates. From the NYT article:

“The risk identified initially was theft, because drivers might leave the key fob in the vehicle by accident. (In conventional ignitions, under regulations adopted in the 1990s, the key cannot be removed unless the car is in park.) The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s general counsel warned automakers in 2002 that keyless ignitions would be prone to mishaps arising from human error. In 2006, the agency updated its regulations to state that with keyless ignitions, “a warning must be sufficient to catch a driver’s attention before he or she exits the vehicle without the keys.”

Many safety advocates such as Consumer Reports and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are asking automakers to add safety features to prevent this, such as an audible alert or an automatic shutoff when a driver leaves the car. Some cars have safety features but most don’t – ” … a survey of 17 car companies by The New York Times found that while some automakers go beyond the features recommended by the standards group, others fall short.”

For now in many keyless cars, the burden of safety falls directly on the driver. Here are a few tips:

  • When purchasing a car with a keyless system, ask about safety features
  • Read your owner’s manual to understand how your system works
  • Be aware of the problem and take extra precautions to shut vehicles down
  • Have a working carbon monoxide detector in your home

NHTSA offers more safety tips in this short video:

Best Bets for kids’ car boosters from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety


Researchers at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) assessed 72 kids’ booster seats to check for the ones that offer a good fit, one of the most important safety criteria. They designated 21 booster models as “Best Bets” and 7 as “Good Bets.” That’s a marked improvement over last year’s list, when only 9 models earned the highest grades. They have also rated 8 models as “not recommended.” See the full list: 2010 IIHS Booster Evaluation Ratings.
These ratings are important because they offer guidance on fit. While there are other tests and ratings for boosters – such as crash performance tests and ease of use – there are none that address fit. IIHS says, “Belts do the main job of keeping kids in boosters safe in crashes, but belts along with vehicle seats are designed for adults, not children, so it’s important for boosters to lift kids into position for lap/shoulder belts to provide proper restraint. Children 4-8 who ride in boosters are 45 percent less likely to sustain injuries in crashes than children restrained by belts alone.”
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Photos used with permission of IIHS.

Consumer Reports: best cars for teens and seniors


If you’re planning to buy a new car for your college-bound student, your first thought might be to shuffle the vehicle deck to give them grandma’s car or your car, and then purchase a replacement. But experts say you might want to think twice about a strategy like that. Newer cars have all the latest safety features, a very important consideration four younger, less experienced drivers.
Before making any decisions, you might want to check with recent recommendations from Consumer Reports. On their Car Blog, they feature a video and a post talking about considerations when buying cars for teens and seniors. They offer their recent picks for the best car options in various classes for each population. Also see their picks for Small drivers and Tall drivers).
In their post, they make some other important points about teen drivers:

Many states have graduated licensing programs that progress teens through a series of steps to achieve the full freedom of driving, by restricting driving hours, passengers, and cell-phone usage. Even if your state doesn’t have such a program in place, you can implement one at home. Studies have shown that there are biological risk factors that diminish as your teen becomes a young adult, signaling immaturity as a significant concern. Limiting risks when the teen is 16 and even 17 years old can increase the chances of responsible, accident-free driving.

They also cite a prior post about teen defensive driving schools. This is a great idea to help your teen learn how to practice and prepare for emergency situations. Plus, it may help you to save money. Ask your insurance agent about any available auto insurance credits, such as Good Student, Advanced Driver Training, or Motor Club Credits.

Crash test: 1959 Chevy Bel Air vs 2009 Chevy Malibu


Wayne Wiersma of Wiersma Insurance found a fascinating video clip that demonstrates just how far highway safety has come over the last 50 years. The test was sponsored by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) to commemorate the organization’s 50th anniversary. The test compares crashworthiness then and now: a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air and 2009 Chevrolet Malibu in 40 mph frontal offset crash test. The original crash video and photos can be found at the IIHS anniversary page, and we’ve found another clip with commentary from Consumer Reports.

See how your vehicle would fare
Use the Consumer Reports Crash Test Selector to see how your make and model would fare thanks to IIHS crash test videos.
Learn about vehicle ratings, auto safety research, laws and regulations and more at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute website. Both are independent, nonprofit, scientific, and educational organizations dedicated to reducing the losses — deaths, injuries, and property damage — from crashes on the nation’s highways.