According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, rollaway vehicles account for about 93 deaths per year and are estimated to injure another 2,000 people per year. This is, however, a small fraction of the over 30,000 people who die from motor vehicle accidents each year. Some of these deaths could have been avoidable, as they are results of car companies’ failures to address hazards resulting from poor vehicle designs.
Rollaway Vehicle Claims Other Life
On Monday, Anton Yelchin, a Hollywood actor best known for his role in the recent Star Trek films, became potentially another victim of such cases. Anton Yelchin was crushed by his 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee when the car pinned him to a brick pillar after it was unintentionally placed in the neutral gear instead of parked.
Fiat Chrysler recently announced a recall for 1.1 million vehicles in April when it was found that this shifting error is not that uncommon with the new gear shifting design. Instead of the typical gear shifter, which allows the driver to maneuver a stick to click into place for the requested gear, the new design is drastically different. The new electronic shifting device is monostable, which means that in order to shift the gears, the driver needs to only apply slight pressure to the shifter as the different transmissions selections will light-up accordingly. Once the desired gear is lit, the driver simply releases the lever as it springs back to its original upright position. While the action seems easy enough, there are complications that arise. For example, research has shown that even after a gear has been selected with the electronic shifter, it may jump back to the previous gear used instead. The confusing setup of the gear shifter is another concern. Many drivers have mistakenly thought the vehicle was in park, when the position was never registered by the car, leading to accidents such as the one Mr. Yelchin endured.
In fact, there have been 212 crashes and 41 injuries as a result of this flawed design. The NHTSA believes the poor design eliminates the tactile and visual feedback that drivers receive when they physically move the gear shifter, causing them to be unaware of the improper settings selected. Drivers may incorrectly believe the vehicle to be in the park only to become injured when attempting to exit the car while the engine is still running. Chrysler failed to provide additional mechanisms to lessen the effects of the driver errors associated with leaving an incorrectly parked vehicle.
Chrysler Only Now Making Changes
Unfortunately, Chrysler fell below acceptable standards in the past as well. Just last year the NHTSA fined the company $105 million dollars in penalties for its failure to conduct appropriate recalls and timely repairs. In response to the negative response to the electronic shifter, Chrysler has returned to the standard gear shifter in all of their 2016 models. While the recall has been issued for the vehicles with the electronic shifting design, mostly which are 2014 and 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokees, the repairs are not expected to begin until at the earliest July. As a result of Chrysler’s oversight, many drivers remain at risk of accident or injury from a glitch in changing gears. Until these changes have been made, it is important for drivers to remain attentive while shifting gears to mitigate chances of accidents.
This illustrates a common product liability case where a manufacturer’s negligent design places the public in harms way. All too often the company refuses to make needed changes when they are first known in an effort to save money. Placing profits ahead of consumer safety is never acceptable.