New York Times report highlights the dangers of push-button start

Keyless and push-button start systems have contributed to upwards of two dozen carbon monoxide poisoning deaths in the United States, according to an in-depth report published in The New York Times. 

According to the Times report, more than "two dozen people" were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning between 2006 and 2018 after leaving their keyless vehicle running in a garage. A further 45 were injured during the same period, although the report says the real figures "could be higher".

The headline case in the report is that of Fred Schaub, an elderly driver killed after accidentally leaving his Toyota RAV4 running in his garage for 29 hours. The carbon monoxide levels in his house were more than 30 times the level tolerable by humans, and he was found with a rash on his head and chest – a common symptom.

"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,” his son told reporters at the Times. "The plants inside the house lost their leaves."

Although some cars automatically turn off after a preset amount of time – Ford and General Motors vehicles to name a few – and others warn drivers with a beep, some just keep running.

In 2011, the Society of Automotive Engineers (a global body, not US-only) called for warning systems when drivers take the key but leave the car running, and the US National Highway Transport Safety Association pushed for mandatory warnings, but neither managed to push through resistance from manufacturers.

Victorians will be familiar with a campaign from Energy Safe Victoria warning homeowners to beware of carbon monoxide poisoning, but it focuses on gas heaters and barbecues. There have been no notable or widely-reported deaths from keyless cars left running in Australia.

Push-button start technology has slowly drifted 'downmarket' since arriving in expensive luxury cars, to the point where it's standard on the entry-level Mazda 2, and available on the littlest Volkswagen – although you'll pay more for the privilege.

As in America, Australian Design Rules don't stipulate warning chimes or auto shut-off for cars with keyless start.