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TDI Board Issues Letter of Concern to Toyota Motor Corporation

The Board of Directors of Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc. Issues Letter of Concern to Toyota on Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Incidents Affecting the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community

Concern is mounting with over a dozen deaths caused by cars not shutting off automatically when the occupant is not in the car, especially with cars with keyless ignitions.  The key thing in common with the deaths is that when parking the car in an enclosed space such as a garage, some people tend to forget that the car will not turn off if they do not press the button to shut off the engine. As a result, if the garage's air is shared with the rest of the household, the carbon monoxide will spread into that household, jeopardizing all within.

Mark Greenblatt, writer for Scripps.com, wrote in his article on keyless ignition investigations:

Incident reports would later reveal [a car owner named] Harrington inadvertently left his 2011 Chrysler 300c running in the first floor garage. The car produced so much carbon monoxide it depleted the available oxygen in the garage and the car stalled, but not before deadly fumes traveled three floors up and seeped into Harrington’s bedroom. He died in his sleep March 19, 2012, the victim of a simple oversight that didn’t have to be fatal.

In December 2011, three months prior to Harrington’s death, NHTSA posted a public notice in the Federal Register saying it believed vehicles equipped with the keyless ignition feature posed a "clear safety problem," citing carbon monoxide poisoning as a significant concern for any drivers who inadvertently leave a vehicle running in an enclosed space, such as a garage. The agency proposed new safety rules, but nearly four years later the proposals have yet to be implemented.

Current federal regulations require cars with a traditional key to shut down if it is removed from the ignition. No such rule protects drivers of keyless ignition cars, which can continue running even after a driver walks away, taking the electronic key fob needed to start the engine. NHTSA has proposed requiring loud warning alarms to sound if drivers accidentally leave their car running after exiting the vehicle with their fob. The agency determined the costs to the industry would be “minimal” to implement the fix, but it did not instruct automakers to take action.

NHTSA said it considered requiring an auto shut-down feature, but in its 2011 proposal wrote "there are scenarios, such as leaving pets in the vehicle with the air conditioning or heating system on while the driver shops or is at a restaurant, where an automatic shut-off of the propulsion system would have adverse results."

Attorney Kushlefsky fired back, noting that leaving a pet alone in an unattended vehicle that is still running constitutes a violation of the law in 45 out of 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Keyless ignitions are now standard in 245 models and optional in 31 others, according to the automotive website Edmunds.com.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has proposed "requiring a louder alert of at least 85 decibels if the key fob is removed from a car while its engine is running. The alarm would be similar to the sound level of a smoke alarm and audible both inside and outside the vehicle."

One obvious issue to that is when it comes to the deaf and hard of hearing.  While not due to keyless ignitions, this has already happened to members in the deaf and hard of hearing community.  Wayne and Joan Flammer, a deaf couple in Madisonville, Ohio, died due to their car being left running.  They could not hear that the car was still running, and if an audible alert was emitted, they would still have not heard it.  DTV News provided sign language coverage of the incident, which can be seen here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=12&v=uCrocyz7aOc 

http://media2.wcpo.com/photo/2016/05/05/16x9/PD__Deaf_couple_dead_after_accidentally__0_37659849_ver1.0_640_480.jpg

http://media2.wcpo.com/photo/2016/05/06/Wayne_Flammer_Joan_Flammer_1462572628958_37739793_ver1.0_640_480.png

Clip from a news report covering the deaths of the couple

Wayne and Joan Flammer

The Board of Directors of Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc. (TDI) took note of the latest incident, and took action by issuing a formal letter outlining its concerns to Toyota Corporation, the manufacturer of the RAV model that the Flammers had.  Copy of the letter was sent to the other major automobile manufacturers and the U.S. Department of Transportation.  That letter can be seen here:   https://tdiforaccess.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/TDI-Letter-to-Toyota.pdf

The other major automobile
manufacturers notified were: General Motors, Ford, Daimler AG, Honda, Hyundai, BMW, and Volvo.




TDI will also be following up on the letter by meeting with the United States Department of Transportation officials, NHTSA officials, along with the officials of the automobile manufacturers.  The recent deaths of the Flammers were most unfortunate, and absolutely unacceptable — this drives home the moral and legal imperative that the deaf and hard of hearing community not be discounted, that any safety feature must also take into consideration of those who are not able to hear.  TDI will work to advocate to have U.S. Department of Transportation put in place a set of clear and effective safety regulations that not only benefit those who can hear, but the deaf and hard of hearing as well.