In the last several months, we have been reporting on Fiat Chrysler’s problems with “rollaway” issues related to its Jeep Grand Cherokee. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation into Fiat Chrysler after numerous complaints by drivers that their vehicles rolled away after the gears were shifted into the “park” position. The national media spotlight is now focused on this issue due to the tragic death of a bright young movie star. Twenty-seven-year old Anton Yelchin, who starred in the recent reboot of the Star Trek movie series, as well as several other movies, was crushed to death on June 19 when his 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee rolled backward on the steep driveway of his Los Angeles home, pinning him against a brick wall and fence.
Just a few months prior to this tragedy, Fiat Chrysler recalled more than 811,000 Grand Cherokees from the 2014-15 model years and 2012-14 Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 sedans in the United States equipped with monostable shifters.
U.S. safety regulators said there were 68 reported injuries and 266 reported crashes in vehicles, including 2014-2015 Fiat Chrysler Jeep Grand Cherokee models, with a type of gear-shifting control that has confused some consumers and led to rollaway incidents, prompting a recall. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicated that there were no deaths linked to the defect to date. But NHTSA acknowledged that it is aware of the death of Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin. The agency said his death “may have been related to the alleged defect.”
While not acknowledging a design flaw in its transmission gear selectors, Fiat Chrysler has said rollaways have occurred because drivers mistakenly believe they had placed the vehicles in park before getting out. The problem with the design of the gear shifts has brought scrutiny to a once-simple function that has grown more complicated in recent years: shifting a vehicle with an automatic transmission into drive or reverse and back to park or neutral.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ 2014 and 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokees were built with what’s known as a monostable shifter. The shifter typically rests in the middle of three positions. The driver directs the shifter fore and aft to cycle electronically through park, reverse, neutral, drive and low.
Fiat Chrysler has told owners to read their manuals to familiarize themselves more fully with how the shift mechanism is intended to work. Familiarity hasn’t always been a challenge in shifting an automobile into drive or park. But style, electronics and the battle for space on the dash and center console have changed the shifter’s shape and the way it is operated.
One consequence of replacing the old-style mechanical linkage from the shifter to the transmission with smaller, faster and more precise electronic systems is that drivers no longer shift intuitively. Nor can they seamlessly transition between brands of cars as they once did.
While Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 102 requires the gear sequence – known as PRNDL (PRIN’-duhl) – to be the same in all vehicles, no rules govern how a shifter must look and perform.
These new designs of shifters can be dangerous and confusing for the unsuspecting consumer. Mike Andrews, a lawyer in our firm who handles Product Liability litigation, has successfully investigated and litigated several rollaway cases. If you have any questions or would like to discuss a potential case, Mike can be contacted at Mike.Andrews@beasleyallen.com.
Source: This article is a combination of two articles published in the Automotive News on June 27 and 28 by Richard Truett – “Are Shifters Getting Too Complicated”- and by Bernie Woodall of Reuters- “Fiat Chrysler Rollaway Recall Linked to 68 Injuries, 266 Crashes.”
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