“After 75 years of driving, my father thought that when he took the key with him when he left the car, the car would be off,” says Doug Schaub. His father, Fred, was among at least 28 people identified by the New York Times as having died from carbon monoxide poisoning after accidentally leaving their keyless-ignition car running in a garage. More than 40 others have been injured, some with brain damage so severe that they struggle to perform everyday tasks. The problem, industry experts say, is that when using a button instead of a key to turn off the engine, some drivers–especially those with quieter models–simply forget that the vehicle is still running when they exit.
The true number of deaths could much be higher, notes the Times, which looked through news reports, police records, and lawsuits. Advocacy groups and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have called for automakers to introduce safety features including automatic shutoff and loud signals to alert drivers when their engine is still running. But adoption of such measures has not been universal across car companies, and some have been very reluctant to retrofit older vehicles. Advocates warn there will be more carbon monoxide deaths, especially among older people, without tougher regulations. “You can’t trust car corporations to police themselves,” says lawyer John Uustal, who is involved in two keyless ignition cases. “There’s no adequate punishment.” (Carbon monoxide from generators proved deadly after Hurricane Irma.)