A vehicle flagged for a potentially fatal flaw in April 2016 has been linked to hundreds of needless accidents and injuries and now a death. Actor Anton Yelchin, 27, was killed two months after the automaker issued a recall notice on the 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Yelchin owned one and was driving it from his Los Angeles home, where the accident occurred. He exited the vehicle after presumably placing it in park and was struck by it after it rolled down his driveway and crushed him against a brick pillar. He dies of blunt force asphyxia.
The recall issued by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles affects more than one million vehicles besides the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The problem stems from an electronic shifter described as a monostable gear selector that fails to warn the operator when the vehicle is in gear and the driver’s door is opened. As explained on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Web site, the monostable gear selector “has a single neutral position that it snaps back to when the driver releases the shift knob” and “has an unfamiliar movement that does not provide the tactile or visual feedback that drivers are accustomed to receiving from conventional shifters.”
“Drivers thinking that their vehicle’s transmission is in the park position may be struck by the vehicle and injured if they attempt to get out of the vehicle while the engine is running and the parking brake is not engaged,” the recall notice states.
The consequences unfortunately turned deadly. Yelchin was known for his role as Chekov in the popular new Star Trek series.
FCA’s submission of a Defect Information Report to the NHTSA was preceded by an August 2015 alert by the federal agency about the dangerous rollaway problem, prompting a consumer-advocacy group to cry foul.
“There was no sense of urgency on Chrysler’s part or NHTSA’s part given the potential for death or injury,” Clarence Ditlow, of the Center for Auto Safety, told The New York Times in an article titled “Anton Yelchin’s Death Highlights a Known Issue With Jeeps.”
So the complaints kept coming in, and to date there are 241 and counting, including this one from the driver of another 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee: “Shift lever design does not properly allow selection of gears, i.e. park vs. reverse vs. drive. Have experienced situations where improper gear was selected, leading to unanticipated vehicle movement. Vehicle has been inadvertently in reverse, when thought to be in park, button was pushed to stop engine, but kept on running; started to exit and vehicle almost crashed into garage door.”
The recall includes 2012, 2013 and 2014 Dodge Chargers and Chrysler 300s and 2014 and 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokees equipped with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Repairs have been few and far between, reported CNN Money in an article titled “Jeep that killed ‘Star Trek’ actor Anton Yelchin was flagged for safety problems.”
“Car owners haven’t gotten an official recall notice yet, but they did receive a notice warning about the problem in May,” the article states. “Fiat Chrysler has to wait for replacement parts to become available before it can start repairs, according to its filing with safety regulators. At that point it will send a recall notice telling owners to bring the car in for free repairs.”
Meantime, consumers are advised to double check their vehicle is in park prior to exiting and apply the parking brake for additional safety.