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Keyless Car Starts Endanger Drivers, Lawsuit Alleges

Joel Pitt misses his father, especially on game day. “You know, if I’m sitting in the stands. Just not having him there,” he said. He aches for the time his daughter won’t have with her grandfather. “She’s excelling in school in a really phenomenal way that he would have appreciated,” he said. Dr. Harry Pitt died four years ago. The 80-year-old retired school superintendent was still entering weightlifting competitions, golfing and traveling. His sons insist he had a lot of life left in him.“I think my dad is up there saying ‘Please don't let this happen to someone else,” said Jeff Pitt, Joel’s brother. In December 2011, Harry Pitt came home, parked in his garage and accidentally left the car running all night long.

“Went to bed and didn’t wake up,” Jeff Pitt recalled.

Harry Pitt died from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Colorless, odorless toxic fumes were rising from the garage to the bedroom two floors above throughout the night because of the car that was left turned on.

It is an accident his sons say never should have happened.

“It’s completely senseless,” said Jeff Pitt.

Harry Pitt drove a car with a keyless ignition.

“Millions of Americans are driving automobiles that have a deadly safety defect, and they don’t know it,” said attorney Martis Alex, who filed a class-action lawsuit against ten automakers of keyless ignition vehicles.

The lawsuit accuses them of false advertising and deceptive practices.

"They represented that the cars were safe. The cars are not safe," Alex said.

Long time auto safety advocate Sean Kane consulted on the lawsuit.

“What we’re seeing here is really an inherent design flaw,” Kane said.

Kane said manufacturers failed to take human behavior into consideration.

Drivers expect if they exit the car with their key, the engine is off. That’s how traditional keys work.
But keyless ignition vehicles generally keep running, even if the key has walked away.

Further complicating the problem is the trend of quiet engines.

Kane, founder and president of Safety Research and Strategies, said this combination has made it far too easy to walk away from a running car.

The lawsuit demanded carmakers install an auto-off feature to kill the engine if the car idles for an extended period.

“If they can put auto-off on your interior lights to save you an inconvenience, why can’t we put auto-off on the engine to save your life?” Alex asked. “It is a simple software fix.”

She compares it to the Chevy Volt recall from earlier this year

“It took about 30 minutes per car to install the auto-off, and dealers were reimbursed by less than $5 a fix,” she said.

Some say carmakers are not to blame, and argue that if a driver is responsible enough to drive, then he or she should be responsible enough to turn off the car.

“You know, the driver absolutely has a responsibility, but when you look at a design, and you see people continuing to make an error. You have a problem with your design. It’s not so much with the human,” Kane countered.

“Anecdotally, virtually every owner of a keyless ignition car that we’ve had any contact with has indicated they’ve left their car running one place or another,” Kane said.

The lawsuit cited 13 deaths nationwide, but in the weeks since it was filed Alex said she has learned of another fatality.

”How many more deaths are we waiting for?,” Alex asked.

NBC4 reached out to all the carmakers named in the lawsuit.

Most declined to comment. However, Ford sent a statement that “the keyless ignition system has proven to be a safe and reliable innovation …” adding that its cars “alert drivers when the driver’s door is opened and the … engine’s running.”

The Pitts have found their own “workarounds” to feel safe.

Jeff keeps his radio on — all the time. It’s his way of knowing if the engine is running.

Because Mercedes offers the option, Joel swapped out the keyless feature for an actual key.

All of this has motivated Harry Pitt’s granddaughter Lindsay, who now plans to study engineering.

“In terms of all the incredible things that they do with cars, you know, they’re making self-driving cars, they should be able to make cars that can turn themselves off,” she said.

Statements from automakers named in the class-action lawsuit:

Toyota - “We have no statement or comment to share at this time.”
Aaron S. Fowles - Corporate Communications

Ford – “Ford takes the safety of our customers very seriously; the keyless ignition system has proven to be a safe and reliable innovative feature that has been well-received by customers. Ford vehicles equipped with keyless ignition alert drivers when the driver’s door is opened and the vehicle’s engine is running.” 
Kelli Felker - Safety Communications Manager

Nissan – “Nissan cannot comment on the subject of current litigation, so we respectfully decline comment on the topic at this time.”
Steve Yaeger - Specialist, Safety & Customer Service Communications

Honda – No response.

GM - “GM is deferring comment to the Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers. “
Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers - “Current keyless ignition system designs generally follow the recommended practices of the Society of Automotive Engineers, which includes recommendations that deal with operating logic, indication of vehicle ignition/control status and the physical control characteristics of keyless ignitions systems. The recommendations also address uniform labeling – all of this so consumers can have an even better understanding of keyless systems functions. “ Wade Newton - Director of Communications

BMW – No response.

Volkswagen and Bently - “Volkswagen Group of America and its brands consider the safety and satisfaction of its consumers and passengers as a top priority. All brands within the Volkswagen Group are engineered to meet or exceed all government regulations. We are unable to comment on specific litigation.”
Erin Bronner - Communications Manager, Bentley Motors, Inc.

Mercedes Benz – “Our vehicles contain the latest in safety features. In fact, unlike many of the other keyless start systems on the market, ours can be operated as a normal keyed ignition system simply by removing the Stop/Start button or using the standard ignition switch (depending on the model). So customers can essentially choose how they wish to operate the system.”
Robert Moran - Director, Corporate Communications Mercedes-Benz USA

Hyundi – “We are cooperating with NHTSA on their research.”
Jim Trainor - Sr. Group Mgr., Product Public Relations

Kia – No response

Published at 10:56 PM PST on Nov 2, 2015

Original Link: http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/Keyless-Car-Starts-Endanger-Drivers-Lawsuit-Alleges-339717532.html

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