Brand new cars these days come with all sorts of fun features, such as Bluetooth compatibility, rearview cameras to help you park, laser headlights (yes, that’s a real thing), remote-start buttons and even traffic light recognition systems. However, drivers who purchased from Fiat Chrysler didn’t count on receiving a feature that made their car just roll away when the car was supposed to be parked.
The recent gearshift designs on the 2012-2015 Chrysler Dodge, Jeep and some SUV models from Fiat Chrysler apparently left drivers confused as to what gear the car was in and, as you can imagine, caused quite a bit of damage. As a result, Fiat Chrysler issued a recall of more than 1.1 million vehicles worldwide. The recall included at least 850,000 cars sold in the U.S. and more than 250,000 sold in other countries.
The new gearshift Fiat Chrysler introduced was apparently not an intuitive design and confused many drivers used to having to physically shift a lever into the proper position. Instead, the Fiat Chrysler lever reset to a center position in between gear shifts. More specifically, if a driver put the car in Park, they’d nudge the gear forward, after which the lever would shift back to a center position, though the car remained in Park. If a driver wanted to put the car into Drive, they would pull the lever backwards, after which it would shift back to a center position, but would remain in Drive.
Although the cars made noises if the driver’s door was open while the car was not placed in Park and the engine was still running, apparently these warning noises were not enough to alert drivers the vehicle was still capable of moving forward.
There were 314 formal complaints submitted to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as of February. The roll away cars caused at least 121 reported crashes and 41 reported injuries, which included three unfortunate cases of broken pelvises. In some cases, the cars rolled into other drivers, parked vehicles and buildings.
Fiat Chrysler actually released a statement, acknowledging that “unless due care is taken, drivers may draw erroneous conclusions about the status of their vehicles.” When a car is shifted into gear (which is generally considered a huge factor in driving), drivers must be able to delineate exactly what gear the car is in. Otherwise, it’s chaos and apparently cars just roll away. Fiat Chrysler says the updated version of the recalled cars will not roll away, even when the drivers don’t put the transmission in Park. However, this seems like it would create problems of its own.
Fiat Chrysler took the idea of innovation a bit too far this time and should not try to redefine how we have been taught to drive since the invention of cars. This new gearshift design is confusing and disruptive and should be taken off the market entirely.
Koonz, McKenney, Johnson, DePaolis & Lightfoot, LLP is a personal injury law firm that fights for victims who have been injured by defective products in the Washington, D.C., Greenbelt, Maryland and Fairfax, Virginia areas.