Few deaths generate more sympathy than the slow, avoidable deaths of a Passaic woman and her two young children in January while trying to stay warm inside a parked car with the engine still running.
As Sashalynn Rosa’s husband shoveled snow around them, snow obstructed the exhaust. When lethal carbon monoxide was dumped into the vehicle, the 23-year-old mother, her 3-year-old daughter Saniyah, and her 1-year-old son Messiah have all passed away.
Thousands of dollars were donated to a funeral website within hours, and Governor Christie signed legislation mandating the Motor Vehicle Commission to incorporate carbon monoxide dangers in driver training and testing manuals as winter approaches this week.
However, driving safety advocates like Janette Fennel have voiced mixed feelings about the idea.
“Anything that increases awareness of a potentially lethal issue like this is a wonderful step,” said Fennel, founder of the Philadelphia-based group Kids & Cars. “However, how can you train someone to remember to switch the car off?”
Fennel understands the human flaws of ignorance that contribute to the devastating vehicular toll of carbon monoxide poisoning better than others.
According to Kids & Cars, clogged tailpipes have caused 30 deaths and 15 major illnesses.
Fennel’s group, on the other hand, is concentrating on a far more recent phenomenon: push-button keyless ignition, which has killed 20 people and caused 45 serious ailments since its introduction in 2003.
Automobile keys have practically become obsolete as a result of this technology, as nearly all cars now have engines that start and shut off with the push of a button.
“Today’s engines run so softly that it’s easy to forget that vehicles are still running even while parked,” Fennel observed.
Carbon monoxide gases have no color, flavor, or taste and can enter adjacent rooms in a house or apartment complex quietly. They replace oxygen in the body’s vital red blood cells when breathed in.
As a New York couple discovered in 2009, a North Carolina college professor in 2012, and a Florida grandmother last year discovered, the harm they do can result in chronic tissue damage, long-term debilitation, and death.
In New Jersey, carbon monoxide poisoning has been documented, with two people dying near a car in Hackensack last March. Three guys died in Paterson under similar circumstances in three separate instances in February 2003. Although no keyless ignitions were used in any of the events, tailpipes were implicated.
The Mayo Clinic in Baltimore provides a number of preventative measures.
Carbon monoxide detectors should be positioned near all sleeping places, and the batteries should be changed at least twice a year.
Always leave the garage door open before starting the car and never leave it running.
Never heat your home with a gas stove or oven, and never operate a generator in the basement or garage.
Maintain adequate ventilation for all fuel-burning equipment and engines.
“A simple electronic switch should be able to turn off the engine,” wrote River Vale homeowner Norman Wattman.
“My Ford Fusion lets me know [it’s operating] with two horn noises and flashing lights,” Brian Gunther, an Ocean County mechanic, explained. “Why can’t other manufactures fall into line?”
Although most current cars have auditory systems that warn drivers when they neglect to press the off button, they fall short of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s minimum threshold of 85 decibels.
Several of the casualties, as many readers have pointed out, were older retirees with hearing difficulties.
“When you’ve been driving for 40 or 50 years, it’s difficult to modify a habit,” Fennel noted. “However, even if a driver has good hearing, persons of all ages may not always be able to hear the warnings above the noise of an automatic garage door closing.”
Do drivers pay attention to the warning lights on their vehicles?
Ignition warning tones are so ingrained in modern beeps, rings, and chirps in cars and phones that “we tend to ignore them,” as one Upper Saddle River reader put it.
The NHTSA recommendation of 85 decibels, which is roughly the sound level of a siren, would surely suffice. According to Nissan, 85 dB is “too high and may interfere with the driver responding to the alert.”
In December 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration labeled keyless vehicles a “obvious safety danger,” which could be addressed with a $500 million industry effort.
Automobile manufacturers, who are already facing airbag and brake litigation, have refused. The federal agency failed to meet its own February target for implementing new keyless ignition standards.