Is the Push-Start Button Dangerous?

Pushbutton_start Wrapped up in the conversation over Toyota’s record-setting recall for 3.8 million vehicles last week, USA Today auto writer Chris Woodyard introduces concerns about the push-start button. That’s the popular new way for people to start their cars without a key and traditional ignition.

Many of the 3.8 million vehicles included in the recall are equipped with such systems.

The button must be depressed for three seconds to kill the engine, and Woodyard points out that most people’s idea of a kill-switch stems from industrial machinery where one slap of the button will cut power in an emergency.

Toyota says that the three-second depression time is meant to keep people from accidentally hitting the button and killing the engine, which would also knock out power steering and other systems.

We agree with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s spokesperson Rae Tyson who said of the push-start button, “It’s a new technology that drivers need to familiarize [themselves with].”

Toyota’s Dilemma: Is the Power Start-Stop Button the Most Dangerous New Feature in Cars? (Drive On)

By Stephen Markley | October 6, 2009 | Comments (20)



Whoever came up with the bright idea to use a push button? This is a feeble attempt to make a rather ordinary car "feel" more like an Indy racecar.Stupid.What was wrong with the age-old key switch that everyone knows how to work? In a life or death panic situation,one gets tunnel vision.You go back to your original programming,and for that policeman he might have been thinking his Toyota or his police Crown Vic/Charger.Dealers need to be smarter,dont loan a dangerous vehicle to people not familiar with their weird functions.


Any device that requires the user to hold down a button for 3 seconds to stop the engine - in an EMERGENCY - is just stupid.


turning the engine off in an emergency?

how about put the transmission into NEUTRAL and keep the engine running so your brake and steering will continue to be manageable?


Traditional keys that stick into the steering column are stupid and unnecessary. People just need learn how their car works and stop blaming companies for their own failure to understand before setting off. This is especially true of people who buy these cars and don't know how to operate it. The technology for this is not new, I've had it at least 6 years on my Infiniti and other companies have had keyless ignitions for a lot longer than that. In normal use it's very handy to be able to keep the key in your pocket or purse, I feel that outweighs the drawbacks.


The push button is stupid for another reason. A child could start the car way to easily if the fob is close by. Like in mom's purse on the seat as she is closing up the trunk!


Your foot still needs to be on the brake.

How about just installing a big red kill switch? It could be on the dash above the radio or something. That could be helpful for a traditional keyed ignition car as well. This would make parents feel more comfortable when in the passenger seat with their teens driving to boot!


sometimes we just want an "EASY" button


as much as i love power and go-fast, i do have to say that a lot of cars have wayyyyy too much horsepower.

a Toyota Tercel will never go that fast and probably doesn't have enough horsepower to overcome the good ol' shoe friction.


the ignition is not the problem...if you shut off the engine, the car is not going to go any slower at the instant you need it to. shifting into neutral and then slamming on the brakes will work better, especially since you'll have the ABS working still as opposed to unpowered brakes that will lock up and send you in a head-over-heels emergency.


It's not the push button that is the problem. It's the floor mats. This has even been a problem for Audi back in the 80's in which they almost went under. Google it. And those cars had regular keys and people were still crashing. You are just jealous your car isn't as awesome as ours with push button starts. Haa.


It's always the stupidity of the American public that raises these questions. It's not the ignition, it's stupid people. People are so dumb that they cannot even figure out how to operate a push button start is pretty sad. There should be an extensive aptitude test in order to obtain a driver's license. This would be especially helpful here in Florida, where it seems like no drivers have common sense. If these idiot people can't operate an ignition properly, they should be riding a bus.


Stupidity and lawyers are what make non-issues suddenly become catastrophic problems.

Derrick G

There's been a lot of focus on the wrecked Lexus' push-button start, but not much on another very important question: why did a trained state trooper not put the car in Neutral?

Toyota has already said that's what should be done, so it doesn't seem there's any designed-in prohibition like some have suggested. So that begs this question: did the design of the shifter possibly confuse the driver? On this car, Neutral is NOT immediately beside the "N" on the shifter; the upshift position for the manumatic transmission is. So did he possibly just glance down and not being familiar with this loaner car force an upshift when he was trying to go into Neutral?

I think it'd be very interesting if the staff could get a statement from the CHP regarding if the car was found with the shifter in the Drive position or over in the "Sequential Shift" gate.


GM's keyless ignition in the CTS uses a nub on the steering column that turns like a regular key. I assume that it would operate like a conventional key if the driver needed to turn the car off.

A push button ignition seems to be an egregious safety risk, especially when you consider that it offers no benefit over a traditional ignition. The NHTSA's treatment of this issue shows complete ignorance towards fail-safe systems and indifference to human safety.

If you ignore for a minute the less than intuitive need to hold down the ignition button for 3 seconds to disable the vehicle while moving (and this is a somewhat unique characteristic limited mostly to Toyota products), this setup still results in a vehicle kill switch that is implemented in software. As if this wasn't bad enough (and for non engineers, a function implemented in software is considerably less reliable than a mechanical switch), there is no redundancy in the system.

Even without the floor mat issue, it is possible to have a systemic failure mode where a drive-by-wire throttle system opens the throttle completely while disabling the software kill switch. If there was a standard physical ignition switch, like any keyed ignition vehicle uses, the driver could still override the stuck throttle by physically opening the ignition circuit. I believe the NHTSA should either hire some engineers who understand risk management, or seriously review their own practices.


First and foremost, it’s tragically obvious there has not been nearly enough thought to all the necessary fail-safe and safety override modes designed into these “drive-by-wire” automotive systems. The Germans at least had the good sense to make their engines go to idle mode if their systems were presented with the conflicting inputs of throttle and brakes applied at the same time (smart pedal). (The Toyota system does not do this. Shame on Toyota — as well as the NHTSA who apparently “approved” of this!) As far as “keyless” ignition system designs go, an across-the-board “standard” is immediately needed. The dashboard “switch” should probably have at least three positions: “Off” (as in turn the ignition system AND fuel pump both off right now); “Idle” (to bring engine power way down - but not fully off - to allow for the power steering and brakes to continue to function); and “On.” To have to “hold” the start-button in for ” three seconds” in an emergency is beyond any safety design rules I believe could ever be allowed for production and put into widespread use by the driving public……


I have a 2009 Lexus ES350. I cannot tell you how many times I have inadvertently "hit" the start button, turning off the car....and having it roll. Again I stress, I just tapped it.


I have a 2009 Infiniti G37 with push-button start & I will not own another car without it!


Who asks for such crap as a push button start button? I highly doubt a million potential carbuyers flooded their dealerships wanting the button.Its because they are running out of add ons and gee gaws to come up with and are now automating and computerizing the most mundane of tasks.Given enough time they will have a button to lower the sunvisors....
I cant wait until its 2020 and all this electronic crap goes on the fritz and parts are discontinued...

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