Actor Anton Yelchin, 27, who played Chekov in the recent “Star Trek” movies was killed two weeks ago when his 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee slid backwards and pinned him against a brick pillar and a security fence. Fiat Chrysler recalled more than 1.1 million of these models and large cars in April because some drivers exited vehicles without putting them into park. The company said it was aware of 41 potentially related injuries during the time it announced the recall. However, U.S. safety regulators said on Tuesday that there were 68 reported injuries and 266 reported crashes in vehicles that have the confusing gear-shifting control. Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne said on a conference call that the recall would include a software update that would automatically shift the vehicles into park. Critics are claiming this is a perfect example of how things become harder to use when you take the controls out of hardware and put them into software.
The underlying issue of the recall is that the Jeep’s shift lever doesn’t mechanically control the transmission, although it looks and moves like a traditional shift lever. The shifter does not give any tactile feedback as to what gear you are in because it returns to the center position after each shift. Therefore, to determine which gear you are in, you have to look at the LEDs on the shifter, which are often blocked by your hand, or the digital display in the instrument cluster. This has caused a lot of confusion among drivers, resulting in them failing to put the vehicles in park. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration made a statement in February saying, “[T]he Monostable shifter is not intuitive and provides poor tactile and visual feedback to the driver, increasing the potential for unintended gear selection.” Unlike other car companies who use this type of shifter, there isn’t an override to automatically put the car into park if the door is open.
Just after Yelchin’s death, a group of Jeep Grand Cherokee owners filed a suit against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV. The owners claim that Fiat Chrysler did not sufficiently warn owners of the potential rollaway risk when they issued the recall for over a million vehicles. This is just days after the company said it would launch an investigation involving Yelchin’s death. All of this is on top of Fiat Chrysler’s allegedly subpar safety practices after being fined $105 million last year regarding almost two dozen recalls involving 11 million vehicles. Fiat Chrysler declined to make a statement, but it did say that it began providing car dealers with a solution to the software that would include an override to shift the car into park if the driver exited the vehicle. The company also claims it will start mailing letters to affected car owners next week notifying them of the importance for them to get their cars fixed. Fiat Chrysler is continually recalling more of its vehicles that have similar issues regarding the gear shifter.
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Rogers, Christina. “Jeep Owners Sue Fiat Chrysler Over Shifter.” WSJ. N.p., 23 June 2016. Web. 28 June 2016.