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Susan C. Livingston has endured the tragic death of her parents in May due to carbon monoxide poisoning from their car’s keyless ignition
Susan C. Livingston has endured the tragic death of her parents in May due to carbon monoxide poisoning from their car’s keyless ignition. (Olivia Falcigno)
BY THOR JOURGENSEN| January 14, 2020
MARBLEHEAD — Susan C. Livingston turned her grief over her parents’ deaths last May into advocacy by working with longtime friend and state Rep. Lori Ehrlich to push for legislation mandating engine shutoff software for keyless ignition vehicles. Once a luxury automotive feature, keyless ignition has become standard in more than 62 percent of all vehicles sold, Ehrlich said in a statement quoting car information resource She said keyless ignition devices have been implicated in a rising number of carbon monoxide poisoning cases and deaths in which vehicles equipped with the devices are left running. Livingston’s parents, Sherry Penney and James Livingston, died from carbon monoxide poisoning at their Florida home on May 10, 2019, when the engine in their keyless ignition Toyota continued to run after they parked the car in their garage. Penney was the first woman to serve permanently as Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts-Boston, and her husband was a senior lecturer emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton reached out to her family to offer his condolences, Susan Livingston and her sisters decided to take action to end keyless ignition deaths. “Why should any family go through this?” she asked. She pushed for federal safeguard legislation with Moulton and U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III and joined forces with Ehrlich, who she first met 12 years ago when the pair fought to shut down the former Salem power plant. “She was the perfect fit for me on this,” said Livingston. Erhlich’s legislation, titled, “An Act Relative To Increasing Operational Safety For Keyless Ignition Technology In Motor Vehicles,” received a legislative hearing on Jan. 2. The legislation would require manufacturers to install auto-stop technology and external warning technology in their motor vehicles. Livingston said software designed to shut off keyless ignition engines after 30 minutes costs a dollar or less. “It’s clearly an easy fix,” she said. Ehrlich’s bill also requires dealers selling or leasing motor vehicles equipped with keyless ignition devices in Massachusetts to install auto-stop technology and external warning technology in their motor vehicles. It also requires said dealers to install this technology in motor vehicles that they have acquired that do not already have this technology prior to making the motor vehicle available for sale or lease. The legislation also outlines keyless ignition safeguards for car rental companies and the Registry of Motor Vehicles and authorizes the state Attorney General to investigate unfair and deceptive acts related to violations, and including in annual safety inspection requirements inspections of the keyless ignition technology and their required safety features. “As keyless ignition technology becomes more commonplace in Massachusetts vehicles, consumer protection and safety rules have to keep up,” Ehrlich said, adding, “The fix for this problem is available and can save lives, we just need to level the playing field so all vehicles, not just those who have installed the fix voluntarily, must comply. If the federal government isn’t able to do this, we must step up to protect residents of Massachusetts.” Toyota Motor North America, Inc. corporate communications senior manager Eric Booth provided this statement from the company. “The safety and security of our customers are top priorities, and we sympathize with anyone in an accident involving one of our vehicles. Toyota’s Smart Key System meets or exceeds all relevant federal safety standards, and we will continue to comply with all applicable standards now and in the future. Toyota’s Smart Key System also provides multiple layers of visual and auditory warnings to alert occupants that the vehicle is running when the driver exits with the key fob.” A New York native and career banker who has lived in Marblehead for 33 years, Livingston said more attention needs to be focused on keyless ignition vehicle deaths. Airbag design deficiencies triggered mass vehicle recalls and repair mandates and the same action needs to be taken on keyless ignitions, she said. “These kinds of deaths are avoidable and preventable,” she said. Ehrlich in her office’s statement cited lawsuits seeking to order car manufacturers to install automatic shutdown features on vehicles. She said “persistent industry opposition” delayed implementation of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) draft risk prevention rules related to automatic shutdown of keyless ignition in 2011. “Industry members are aware of the risks associated with operating keyless ignition vehicles. A few have even voluntarily implemented proactive and preventive steps themselves to protect the people who drive their cars. General Motors, in a 2015 safety recall, retrofitted vehicles that have keyless ignitions with automatic shutoff technology which cost them only five dollar per vehicle,” stated Ehrlich.
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