Toyota Motor Corp. will begin phasing in two safety features starting with its 2020 models: One will shut off the engine if left idling too long and the other will help prevent the vehicle from rolling away if the driver exits without shifting into park.
The automaker said it will upgrade a 17-year-old system, which issues a two-step alert to request the driver to turn off a long-idling engine, to one that provides for automatic engine shut-off at a predetermined interval with enhanced audible and visual warnings on its Smart Key system, depending on equipment.
The company said an additional warning delivered via its smartphone app was forthcoming.
The announcement comes days after Toyota was criticized by Safety Research & Strategies Inc., a Rehoboth, Mass., vehicle and product safety company headed by Sean Kane, for the number of carbon monoxide-related deaths attributable to the keyless ignition system in Toyota's vehicles.
According to the company, at least 37 known deaths nationally have been linked to keyless ignition-related carbon monoxide poisoning in the U.S. Kane said the numbers cited likely don't include all such deaths.
Still, Kane told Automotive News that Toyota's move "is a positive announcement, and we're glad to see it happen. But with that being said, they're late to the game and there are no plans in that announcement to fix the vehicles that are already on the road."
A Toyota spokesman, when shown Kane's comment, said: "The safety and security of our customers are top priorities, and we sympathize with anyone in an accident involving one of our vehicles. ... We are pleased to see the positive response to this proactive approach. We will continue to comply with all applicable standards now and in the future."
The second upgrade, which Toyota calls Automatic Park, will shift the vehicle into park or apply the electronic emergency brake if the driver exits without placing the automatic transmission in park.
A Toyota spokeswoman said the feature is activated when the driver's side door is opened and the driver's seat belt is unbuckled and the brake is disengaged.
Toyota did not say how long it planned to take to phase in the safety features across its lineup.