Toyota Motor is considering a modification to its push button ignition system to make it easier to turn off the engine in the event of an emergency, US media reports said this week.

The company is considering adding a function to the keyless ignition 'stop start' button in its Toyota and Lexus products that would allow the driver to turn off the engine by tapping the button three times in succession, company spokesman Brian Lyons told the Wall Street Journal. The possible change to the ignition system was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Currently, the button has to be depressed for three seconds continuously for the engine to cut out. Lyons stressed the modification was still only "under study." The ignition system is used in all Lexus products and is standard or optional on many Toyota products.

In a 2007 study of the Lexus ES350, US safety investigators raised concerns about the keyless ignition switch because it removes the ability to "instantaneously shut off the engine in the event of an emergency."

The investigators said few of the Lexus drivers who were surveyed knew how to operate the switch. At that time, the vehicles owners' manual only made general mention of how to operate the switch. Lyons said the manual has since been updated.

The possible modification to the switch is designed to provide an extra measure of security, Lyons said, much like the new brake over-ride system that the auto maker is introducing into all of its products by the end of the year. In the new braking system, if both the gas and brake pedals are pressed simultaneously, the brake will take precedence.

A Lexus ES350 was involved in a fiery crash near San Diego last summer after the driver, a police driving training instructor, was unable to shut off the engine or brake the vehicle. Wrongly specified and incorrectly fitted floormats in the dealer loan car trapping the accelerator pedal were allegedly a cause of the crash which killed all four occupants of the car.

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