Omaha World Harold: Omaha woman turns parents' carbon monoxide deaths into mission: auto shutoffs in keyless ignitions

Aug 12, 2019
In The News

An Omaha woman whose parents died of carbon monoxide poisoning is headed to Washington, D.C., in her crusade to save others from the same fate.

Sharon Shore, 47, brought the issue to the attention of Rep. Jeff Fortenberry at a recent town hall — and the congressman has taken up the cause.

Shore’s parents, Thomas and Ann MacKinnon, died in June a few days before her 80th birthday.

They were scheduled to go on a cruise. Instead, their bodies were found almost two weeks later.

Her mother had parked their car in the garage. But it appeared after the fact that she’d forgotten to press the button to turn off the keyless car.

The car had no automatic shut-off, so their home filled with carbon monoxide.

“They had these long lives,” Shore said. “They had all these plans. They did so much. Then it’s over because of 30 seconds of distraction.”

Keyless cars still have a key fob to open the door. But instead of putting in a key to start the car, the driver presses a button to turn it off and on. As long as the key fob is in the car, it will start.

Edmunds, a resource for automotive information, reported that keyless ignition vehicles have risen dramatically in popularity: In 2008, they represented 11% of cars sold in the U.S. Last year, that rose to 62%.

Some keyless cars will automatically turn off if a driver walks away with the fob. Others, like the one Ann MacKinnon left parked in the attached garage, don’t have that feature. So Shore said it appeared that the car kept running until it ran out of gas.

The first known carbon monoxide poisoning due to a keyless ignition was in 2006, according to the New York Times.

Safety advocates, such as Kidsandcars.org, have long pushed for more regulations, such as a requirement that manufacturers provide an automatic shut-off when the car has been idling for a period of time.

But industry groups, such as the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, have argued that regulations are not needed to address the issue. The alliance focus is on uniform labeling so consumers understand how the keyless system in their cars function.

Shore got Fortenberry’s attention at the town hall.

She wanted him to support a bill known as the PARK IT (Protecting Americans from the Risks of Keyless Ignition Technology) Act. Among its requirements would be automatic shut-offs.

And Fortenberry agreed and signed on as a co-sponsor to the bill.

“I believe it is solid, smart legislation that deserves wide support,” he said in his column, the Fort Report. “It may not even require passage for the bill to achieve its intended result.”

Some automakers have made the switch — Toyota announced this year that it will include an automatic shut-off on its 2020 models.

Fortenberry said at least 37 people in the U.S. have died in a similar way.

Now Shore wants to expand the effort to the rest of Nebraska’s congressional delegation and to Washington.

She’s taken a month off her job at PayPal and has a binder devoted to information about other similar deaths.

Fortenberry invited her to speak at the weekly breakfast in D.C. hosted by the Nebraska delegation for visiting constituents.

Shore is hoping to reach out to other families of people who have had similar incidents to lobby their own congressional representatives.

Shore said she hopes that nothing like this ever happens to someone else.

 

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