What would happen if you turned your car off while driving it?

Happy woman driving car

When my husband bought an Audi a few years ago, I was impressed by the push-button starter. As long as he had the fob with him, there was no need to fumble for keys. Just press a button!

Then one day, we were driving 70 mph on the highway when our hyper Boston terrier jumped into the front seat and pawed the button. Instantly, this snazzy keyless feature turned dangerous. What would happen to our car?

Here’s the good news: The car continued on unimpeded because you have to press and hold the button for a few seconds to turn the engine off. But in this moment when so many cars have keyless ignition systems (as of 2018, it was a standard option in 62% of vehicles sold), shouldn’t we all know what to do if the button does get pressed and held while driving?

The automotive experts at Consumer Reports thought so and tried it out on their test track. While driving at a highway speed, their test driver pressed and held the keyless start button of a Ford Maverick. And the engine did, in fact, turn off. However, the steering, brakes and dashboard lights continued to work. So he was able to pull the car to the side of the road, put it in park and restart it.

Why would car makers even give drivers the ability to turn the engine off while driving at highway speeds? It’s actually a safety feature. If your car catches fire or experiences a dangerous mechanical failure, the driver needs to be able to shut off the power. Turning off the engine prevents any fluid from feeding a fire, which can cause an explosion.

Truth is, there’s a different issue with keyless ignitions that’s proved much more dangerous. Cars are so quiet these days that there’s little audible difference when the engine’s running. So some people have forgotten to turn their car off when they pulled into their enclosed garage. Dozens of people have died of carbon monoxide poisoning, which has prompted companies like Toyota to introduce a new feature: cars that turn themselves off.

What will they think of next, cars that drive themselves? Oh, right. That’s already happening.

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