US road safety regulators are alleging that electronic gear shifters on some of the latest SUVs and sedans from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (NYSE:FCAU) are so confusing that drivers have left some cars with engines running while still in gear resulting in crashes as well as serious injuries.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has doubled the number of cars involved in an investigation of the issue. So far, the agency is not seeking a recall. The agency discovered over 100 crashes and more than a dozen injuries, the majority of them in Jeep Grand Cherokees.
Last year, the NHTSA opened an investigation into 400,000 Jeep Grand Cherokees after certain owners complained their automobiles would move even after being shifted to Park. Currently, the NHTSA has more than doubled the number of Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep automobiles being probed. The agency is blaming the issues on a confusing shifter design that doesn’t clearly warn drivers that they have not engaged Park.
The NHTSA is further implementing an engineering analysis on over 856,000 Fiat Chrysler automobiles. They have already gotten news of 314 roll away incidents related to 121 crashes and 30 injuries happening when drivers left a vehicle after they believed they had shifted to Park. While the initial probe looked at the problem as a mechanical flaw, it seems now that the issue is linked with driver error because of a badly designed shifter.
All affected automobiles utilize a push button console shift switch that resembles a PRNDL shifter. However, while operating, the electronic shifter functions similarly to a joystick going back to its centre position after a particular gear is selected. There is no gate surrounding the shifter. The lever moves through subtle dents, and the complete range of motion is very short compared with a conventional mechanical shifter.
Fiat Chrysler is not the only one with poorly designed trouble-causing shifters. It is also reported that Mercedes-Benz and BMW have problems with gearshifts, too.