Keyless Ignitions Under Legal Attack

Five million cars have a keyless ignition system. 13 deaths are attributed to the technology. Lawyers are on the case, reports the Guardian.

Some years ago I rented a Renault Megane. Much to my surprise I was able to get out of the car clutching the key card and walk away. The vehicle was still running. That confirmed for me the essential riskiness of the key-less ignition system and since then nobody’s been able to offer a good justification for them.
I imagine that the scenario where people are most at risk is when the user is an older person accustomed to the logic of the standard key: when the key is removed from the ignition the engine will stop. Such reasoning is by analogy which is a common form of conceptualisation. In my case I wasn’t even in that category. I had just used ordinary keys for two decades and treated the new system like the old. The fact the place I parked the car was noisy and that I was a bit distracted meant I had lined up a set of conditions that could have led to an accident (running out of diesel). This is the Swiss-cheese accident model, if you are interested.

2015 gty_keyless_ignition_dm_120308_wmain
According to the Guardian and other sources just about everybody selling cars in the US is in the lawyers’ sights:  BMW, including Mini; Daimler’s Mercedes Benz; Fiat Chrysler; Ford Motor Co; General Motors Co; Honda, including Acura, Hyundai, including Kia; Nissan, including Infiniti; Toyota, including Lexus; Volkswagen, including Bentley (the Guardian provided this list for me). This is in addition to the ongoing Takata airbag problem and GM’s faulty ignitions. The difference is that the entire concept of keyless ignition is under attack and not just particular designs of generally accepted technology.

At first glance a death rate of 13 cases per 5 million cars is possibly lower than the number of people choked by electric windows and pales in comparison with the 150 daily gun-related deaths in the US. The chances of this case getting very far seem remote; it is hard to imagine those manufacturers back-tracking on what superficially seems like an attractive technology.

What I hope to get out of this is some further reasoning for why keyless ignitions are anything more than a rather pointless gimmick. I can’t see the ergonomic advantages and quite apart from the very small asphyxiation hazard, I hate losing the key in my pockets. They aren’t faster to use and I spend a lot of time hunting for them. I really hope the lawyers win this one.


Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

4 thoughts on “Keyless Ignitions Under Legal Attack”

  1. I intend to do something on this as part of my ongoing LTT of the Mazda3. I won’t go into detail now, but I see no practical point of benefit in any way of the keyless facility in the Mazda, beyond the “easier to open the driver’s door with your hands full” argument, and that’s just a very rare occurence. The number of downsides are much more numerous – give me a key with built-in remote, and that “hands-full” feature any day, all day long.

  2. As an industrial designer I’m curious to know what user insights led to keyless ignition being adopted. As regard “the hands full” argument you still need one hand free to open the door. That same hand could find a key and then open the door. If I was confronted by this concept by a student I’d want to know exactly how they’d tested it on users in all possible scenarios.
    I hired a car today and when I got in the engine was running. I only found this out because I noticed the key in the ignition and jabbed the gas pedal speculatively. I was surprised when the engine growled.

  3. My recently acquired Cube has keyless ignition. It seems to be one of those conveniences borne of our growing used to living in a service culture. “Can I pack your bags for you?” “Yes, but so can I”. It gives the impression the manufacturer cares that little bit more. My own experience to date is that I got used to it very quickly, but it adds nothing to my owning experience, whereas a couple more useful stowage bins would. I haven’t yet bothered finding what happens if I hand the car over to someone else (a friend or carjacker) and they drive off into the distance, me with the fob still in my pocket. Or if the transponder battery fails one dark wet night.

    There is a security upside. My old Audi, currently parked at work whilst I decide its fate, was the victim of an incompetent felon. He managed to ruin the driver’s key barrel, but was too useless to actually steal the car so I could claim insurance. Living in London, this is the third (at least) time I’ve had a lock damaged thus. A foolproof keyless system at least prevents that.

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