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Driver Assistance Technologies

Keyless Ignition Systems

What is a Keyless Ignition System?

Keyless Ignition Systems, as they are commonly called, usually consist of a device (also known as a key fob or a FOB) carried by the driver, which takes over the functions of a traditional metal key. Verification of the correct device is done electronically when the driver attempts to start the vehicle—usually by pushing a button or turning a rotary switch.

Are all Keyless Ignition Systems the same?

Keyless Ignition Systems differ across models. Push buttons are most common, but there are also rocker-type switches that must be flipped, and rotary switches that must be rotated similar to the traditional ignition switch that is turned with a key. Systems differ in alerts given to the driver if an unsafe condition occurs (e.g., not putting the transmission in “park” before shutting down the engine—or propulsion systems for electric/hybrid vehicles—or leaving the vehicle while the engine is still active). Refer to your Owner’s Manual for further details on how your vehicle is operated in normal and emergency situations, and for the alerts that your vehicle sounds.

When were Keyless Ignition Systems made available in America?

Keyless Ignition Systems first became available in the early 2000s in luxury models, but are now also available in more mainstream vehicles.

What are the dangers with vehicles that feature these systems?    

NHTSA’s concerns are drivers who shut off the engine without putting their vehicle in “park” and walk away from the vehicle, leaving it prone to roll away; drivers who do put their vehicles in park, but inadvertently leave the engine active, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in a closed environment; and drivers who do not know how to shut down the engine of their vehicle in the event of an on-road emergency.

What can I do to make sure my car is turned off?    

Follow some basic safety tips like making sure your car is in “park” before shutting down the engine, making sure the engine is shut down, applying the vehicle’s parking brake, checking your driver’s manual for detailed instructions on how to operate your vehicle properly, and watching NHTSA’s safety video on keyless ignition systems for basic safety tips.

Understanding Your Keyless Ignition