Image Source: TVM News
Anton Yelchin, best known for his role as Ensign Pavel Chekov in the 2009 Star Trek reboot, was found pinned to a brick pillar and security fence by his car. Investigators believe that he was on his way to a rehearsal when he stopped in his driveway and stepped out of his car; the car rolled backwards and pinned him to the pillar.
The 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee that pinned Yelchin was a model that had been recalled by Fiat Chrysler for a gearshift issue. The confusing design of the gearshift could accidentally cause drivers to leave the car in neutral, thinking that it was actually in park. The problem is the result of an unusual lever design which returns to a center position instead of staying in a unique position for each gear; a driver must look at the light on the shifter, not the position of the lever itself, to see which gear they are in.
Fiat Chrysler’s recall problem
An April recall of the affected vehicles covered nearly 812,000 cars in the 2014 and 2015 Grand Cherokee models. 2012-14 Dodge Chargers and Chrysler 300s were also involved in the recall. At the time of the recall, the automaker said that they were aware of 41 injuries due to the confusing gear shift, but this is the first known fatality as a result of the problem.
The problematic gear shift. Image Source: Jalopnik
Federal regulators fined Fiat Chrysler $105 million last year for misrepresenting injury and death claims caused by possible defects in the company’s cars. Investigators from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that Fiat Chrysler’s systems for gathering and reporting data on claims were flawed and leading to significant underreporting.
This particular “rollaway” problem was something Fiat Chrysler was aware of for some time. Owners of the affected cars reported that vehicles that appeared to be parked “independently moved backwards” or “failed to stop,” leading to crashes.
While Fiat Chrysler was aware of the confusing gear shift in their recalled cars, the safety recall report released by the company said, “FCA intends to repair your vehicle free of charge (parts and labor). However, a permanent remedy for this condition is currently under development. FCA is working to finalize a remedy by the 4th quarter of 2016. FCA will contact you again by mail, with a follow-up recall notice, when the remedy is available.” That remedy has yet to be finalized, and the only temporary solution the company offered was a reminder to customers to check their shift lever knob and apply their parking brake before exiting the vehicle.