Be aware of keyless car dangers

Be aware of keyless car dangers
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ROCKVILLE, Md., (WUSA) -- "Every single high school in Montgomery County, I think, has a page in here where they say a special thank you," says Jeffrey Pitt.

His father, Dr. Harry Pitt, was a well loved and respected educator in the county. The former School Superintendent retired in 1991, but that life transition didn't slow him down.

"He set the Northern Virginia power lifting bench press record for 80 plus year olds," Jeffrey says.

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Back on December 3, 2011, the power lifting champ returned home from his gym workout. Son Joel Pitt says, "He pulled into the garage, did not hit his turn off button in his car, went inside."

Dr. Pitt's keyless ignition car continued to run until the gas tank was empty, carbon monoxide fumes seeped into his home. He was found by his girlfriend the next morning.

"I think her words were your father's gone," Joel Pitt says.

According to the consumer group KidsandCars.org, this isn't an isolated incident. Safety advocates say automakers didn't design the technology with "human factors" in mind.

"It's almost muscle memory to lean forward and take that key out. With a button there, we have to teach ourselves," says Janette Fennell.

The National Highway Safety Administration has been studying the problem since 2011. Last year, a class action lawsuit was filed against 12 automakers to get them to install an auto shut-off feature.

Some have, but only in newer vehicles. They have not recalled or retrofitted older models. NHTSA was supposed to issue a final rule directing car companies to come up with a safety fix. But, the agency now says it's not clear when that will happen.

Janette Fennell says, "As they sit on their hands and don't come out with any rules, people are dying. People are being injured.

NHTSA Safercar.gov Keyless Entry Safety

NHTSA and the auto industry believe an audible alert is the right remedy.

"The problem with an audible warning is that not everyone's going to hear it," says automotive safety advocate Sean Kane.

Dr. Pitt's sons agree. They say the Korean War veteran lost much of his hearing during an artillery explosion.

Kane says, "Simply put in a software patch would shut the vehicle down if it's inactive, let's say 30 minutes, and then, that would solve our problem."

WUSA anchor and consumer correspondent Lesli Foster asks Jeffrey Pitt, "Are you convinced that if your father's car had this automatic shutoff device that he would still be here today?"

"He would still be here if that car shut off, yes," he says.

According to the class action lawsuit, General Motors installed an auto-off system in its newer model Chevy Volts. Ford installed the system in its 2014 and 2015 Lincoln MKS vehicles.

Jeffrey and Joel Pitt, along with safety advocates, say if you drive one of these cars, you need to have a working carbon monoxide detector in your home.

And, you should know that while your key fob sends an electronic message to start your car, it plays no role in shutting it off. That's why there's a push to have automakers install a shutoff feature that would act as a fail safe and potentially save lives.