Fiat Chrysler may now have a death on its hands. Hollywood actor, Anton Yelchin, best known for his role in the recent “Star Trek” films, has died due to sustained injuries when his Jeep Grand Cherokee rolled down his driveway, ultimately crushing him. Fiat Chrysler recalled its SUVs this past year due to the confusing gearshift mechanism, but repairs are not expected until at the earliest July. The current gearshift has been linked to 212 accidents and 41 injuries.
SLEEK BUT CONFUSING GEARSHIFT LEADS TO “DRIVER ERROR”
The new gearshift is considered modern and sleek for it minimalist design. Instead of the typical gearshift which allows drivers to choose a transmission setting based on how far they move the shifter and feel where and when it clicks into place, the new Chrysler design works very differently because it functions similar to a joystick. This new design eliminates the tactile and visual responses which subconsciously correlate with the shifting of gears. With the new design, the driver only needs to put forward or backward pressure on the joystick while the shifting options light-up in turn. To select an option, the driver simply releases the gearshift when the appropriate gear has lit up. The transmission mechanism will instantly bounce back to the upright position, providing no further insight on the selected gear.
Unfortunately, this results in many unintended shift selections while the driver remains oblivious. In some cases, such as the one with Mr. Yelchin, drivers may erroneously conclude their vehicle is parked only for the vehicle to strike or injure the driver or passengers when attempting to exit while the engine is still running. In addition, research has indicated that the gear may shift back to the previous gear even after a shift appeared complete. As a result to this oversight, Chrysler plans to redo the software in existing cars and has returned to the standard shifter in the new 2016 model.
The NHTSA is currently investigating 850,000 vehicles, mainly 2014 and 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokees, with the electronic-type of gear shift design. The NHTSA reported that Fiat Chryslers do not have “an additional mechanism to mitigate the effects of driver error in failing to shift the monostable gear selector into park prior to exiting the vehicle constitutes a defect presenting a risk to motor vehicle safety.”
NOT THE FIRST TIME
According to the NHTSA, this is not the first time Fiat Chrysler has failed to address safety issues. In fact, this past year the NHTSA penalized Fiat Chrysler with $105 million dollars in penalties for its failure to conduct recalls and complete repairs in an appropriate time frame.
The benefits of the electronic shifter include the lighter weight and less space required, which lead to greater overall fuel efficiency. These positives do not outweigh the potential dangers that result from the shifter’s design. Fiat Chrysler has a problem on its hand. Its failure to correct its error in a timely manner may have resulted in many unwarranted injuries and Anton Yelchin’s death. With an estimated 1.1 million vehicles listed in the recall, it is unclear how long corrections will take and how many more crashes will ensue.
If you have been injured by Chrysler’s defective electronic shifter, you may have a legal claim even with the recall. A successful lawsuit may result in paid medical expenses and compensated for pain and suffering. An attorney can help you decide if this is the best route to take.