Federal regulators considering safety changes to keyless ignition vehicles

Carbon monoxide poisoning survivor says incidents could have been prevented

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Federal regulators are considering safety changes to a popular car feature that has proven deadly in several Florida cases.

Keyless ignition vehicles are increasingly popular and don't require a key to turn off the engine. Critics say drivers often forget to push a button to turn off the vehicle, leading carbon monoxide to flood into the home and kill those inside without warning.

"For many, many years people take their key, they go into their house and they know their car is off," attorney John Uustal, who has worked on cases involving keyless ignition vehicles, told Local 10 News.

"Nobody should have to lose a loved one," carbon monoxide poisoning survivor Tim Maddock said.

Maddock told Local 10 News investigative reporter Amy Viteri that doctors told him it was a miracle he survived after his girlfriend, Chasity Glisson, 29, mistakenly left her Lexus running in her garage in August 2010.

When friends and family hadn't heard from the couple, first responders found them a day later. Maddock was unable to move or speak, but Glisson was already gone.

"It's hard to move on," Maddock told Viteri. "I can't replace that."

To learn how quickly the simple mistake can prove deadly, Local 10 News contacted the Broward Sheriff's Office Department of Fire Rescue hazardous materials team.

A running vehicle was shut inside a shipping container, along with a carbon monoxide detector. Within 15 minutes, hazmat technicians Mike Silvestri and Craig Hilty went inside to check the air and reported levels of nearly 50 parts per million, already dangerous levels, firefighters said.

According to the nonprofit organization KidsAndCars.org, 20 carbon monoxide deaths have been linked to keyless ignition cars. Eight of those cases happened in Florida, killing 10 people.

"It's an issue and you know it," Maddock said about automakers. "And it's been a lot of years."

Maddock and Glisson's family sued Lexus parent company Toyota for negligence after her death. The automaker settled the lawsuit.

In 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed a rule to address safety issues with keyless ignition cars. The proposal included requiring an audible warning. Five years later, the agency has not taken any action.

"NHTSA does not have a definite date at this time for the rule as it has been addressing the multiple public comments received," spokesman Derrell Lyles told Viteri.

"The car companies have stalled them from doing anything, so nothing changes and people keep dying," Uustal said.

In public comments to the proposed changes, the Alliance of Automobile manufacturers wrote that "the absence of data … suggests that there is not a serious safety problem here that would warrant an amendment to the standard."

In September, Mona Sternbach, 84, died in Palm Beach County after leaving her keyless ignition Lexus running in the garage.

Local 10 News contacted Toyota about whether there are plans to make safety changes.

"We, as with most automakers, don't discuss future product plans," Toyota spokesman Ed Lewis replied.

"It's very, very difficult, for her family, for my family (and) for me," Maddock said. "And it could have been prevented. It could have been prevented."

BSO Department of Fire Rescue officials said these cases highlight the importance of carbon monoxide detectors, which have saved lives.