Home > Safety > Push-button ignition: Is it safe?

Push-button ignition: Is it safe?

February 18, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

– From ConsumerReports.org

Vehicle technology has come a long way in the past decade and many new features have helped reduce the number of crashes and fatalities. Systems such as electronic stability control (which will be mandated in vehicles starting with the 2012 model year), antilock brakes, air bags, and traction control have been credited with saving thousands of lives each year.

Then there are other vehicle features that are more for convenience such as Bluetooth capability, iPod connectivity, heated seats, tilt and telescope steering wheels, and keyless entry and push-button ignition.  These features aid in comfort and help enhance the driving experience. However, sometimes a new feature can add more complexities and confusion and create safety concerns. Our car team discussed this recently with the new MyFord dashboard interface, which may cause driver distraction. And now, in light of the recent Toyota recalls, there are questions about the safety of vehicles with push-button ignition.

Keyless entry is a cool, innovative feature that made its way into the luxury vehicle market a few years ago and that has since trickled down to the mainstream market even in such entry level cars as the upcoming redesigned Ford Focus, which will offer the technology as an option.

While traditional keys are universal and easy to use, a push-button ignition requires some getting used to, especially since the technology varies by manufacturer.  A recent Los Angeles Times article discussed the possible confusion and safety implications these buttons can cause. One issue that has come to light lately is how to stop a car with push button ignition if you are faced with sudden acceleration. The answer isn’t very clear, which may have been a factor in why an off-duty police officer could not stop his Lexus when it accelerated out of control causing a horrific crash last August.

Recently, Toyota announced that it will change how its start-stop ignition button operates to provide more intuitive operation in the event of an emergency.  Currently, the button must be held for three seconds to turn off the engine when the car is in motion. Other manufacturers such as Nissan, Infiniti and Cadillac allow an engine to be shut off with two quick pushes within three seconds, which is more intuitive. Right now there is no government standard for start-stop buttons, but federal regulators and industry groups are researching the option of adopting standard procedures.

In the meantime, it’s important to be familiar with how your vehicle’s start-stop button works. Check your owner’s manual for details.  If you are ever faced with an incident of sudden acceleration and need to stop your moving car, brake firmly, put the transmission in Neutral, steer to a safe location, put your car in park and turn it off. (Read: “How to stop a runaway car: Five steps that can save your life.”)

—Liza Barth

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Categories: Safety
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