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.
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 propulsion system, or leaving the vehicle while the propulsion system 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.
Keyless Ignition Systems first became available in the early 2000s in luxury models, but have migrated to more mainstream vehicles.
NHTSA’s concerns are drivers who shut off the propulsion system without putting their vehicle in “park” and walk away from the vehicle, leaving it prone to roll away; drivers who do put their vehicle in park, but inadvertently leave the propulsion system active increasing the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in a closed environment; and drivers who do not know how to shut down the propulsion system of their vehicle in the event of any on-road emergency.
Follow some basic safety tips like making sure your car is in “park” before shutting down the propulsion system, making sure the propulsion system 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 watch NHTSA’s safety video on keyless ignition systems for basic safety tips.