Standard Panic Stop for Keyless-Ignition Cars Sought by U.S.

Toyota’s First Sales Gain Since April
Toyota Motor Corp., posting its first monthly sales increase since April, joined Chrysler Group LLC and Nissan Motor Co. in topping analysts’ estimates that called for the industry’s best month of the year. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

U.S. auto-safety regulators proposed standardizing keyless ignitions to allow drivers to turn off cars faster and more easily in incidents of unintended acceleration following Toyota Motor Corp.’s record recalls.

The proposed rule will cost less than $500,000 a year, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a proposed rule to be published Dec. 12 in the Federal Register.

“These are the kinds of things you never think to read up on when you’re in a new vehicle or a rental vehicle,” said Henry Jasny, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, which pushed for the standard. “It’s better that it’s standardized.”

The rule, developed after a driver and his family died in the crash of a borrowed Toyota Lexus ES-350, seeks to make sure that all vehicles with keyless ignitions can be turned off in the same way. Toyota in 2009 and 2010 recalled more than 10 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles for defects that may cause unintended acceleration. Some of the cars had push-button starts, meaning panicking drivers would have to hold down the button to stop the car rather than turning a key.

‘Inability to Stop’

“At issue are drivers’ inability to stop a moving vehicle in a panic situation, and drivers who unintentionally leave the vehicle without the vehicle transmission’s being ‘locked in park,’ or with the engine still running, increasing the chances of vehicle rollaway or carbon monoxide poisoning in an enclosed area,” the regulator said in the proposal.

The rule would standardize the length of time drivers must push a button to stop a moving car to a half-second. The Society of Automotive Engineers, which writes industry standards for automakers to follow voluntarily, in January recommended a range of a half-second to two seconds.

In the Lexus ES-350 crash that killed four people in 2009, helping prompt Toyota’s recalls, the car had a keyless electronic starting system with a push-button control that required the driver to hold the button for as long as three seconds to stop the engine, NHTSA said in the proposed rule.

The rule probably won’t help sales of push-button ignitions or components because it will probably require a calibration change, rather than different parts, said Rich Hilgert, a Morningstar Inc. analyst who follows auto suppliers.

Ignition Sales

“There’s more than likely an off-the-shelf solution, especially with electronics,” Hilgert, based in Chicago, said in a telephone interview. “It doesn’t seem like this is going to be that difficult to come up with a solution for.”

Suppliers of push-button start ignitions include Strattec Security Corp., based in Milwaukee. BorgWarner Inc., Federal-Mogul Corp. and Robert Bosch GmbH supply ignition parts, according to Automotive Who’s Who Inc., a company in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that oversees an automotive-supplier directory.

Automakers have also worked on standardizing keyless ignitions and are reviewing the proposed rule, said Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers, whose members include Toyota, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co.

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