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Greg Webb
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Transmission Lever Rollaway Incidents Under Scrutiny After Fatal Jeep Accident

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Sometimes it seems that the average person doesn’t really count for much when it comes to big corporations. It takes tragic stories like the crash that injured Tracey Morgan or the recent Jeep malfunction that killed 27-year-old Anton Yelchin to get the necessary attention. Lives lost do not matter much to these big corporations—a story we have seen too often in the last couple of years with GM’s ignition defect and Taka’s airbag problems. What seems to matter is profit, not accountability, human decency, or a desire to be the ‘best’ as defined by safe and dependable.

The actor Yelchin was killed when his Jeep slipped out of gear and rolled, pinning him between his car and a concrete structure in his driveway. Jeep was aware of the problem with its confusing gearshift. “The affected vehicles use an unconventional lever to shift the automatic transmission. Instead of moving to a different position with each gear, the lever returns to a center position. The driver must look at the shifter to make sure the proper gear is selected.”

Fiat Chrysler announced a recall in April of this year for 2014-2015 Jeep Grand Cherokees, 2012-2014 Chrysler 300s and 2012-2014 Dodge Chargers, a total of 1.1 million cars. The company followed that recall with a notice to affected owners stating, “A permanent remedy for this condition is currently under development. ” The company indicated that it hoped to “finalize” the recall in the fourth quarter. In the meantime owners are to use their parking brake and make sure the vehicle is in the correct gear. Fiat Chrysler issued this statement when discussing the problem with federal regulators, “Drivers erroneously concluding that their vehicle transmission is in the park position may be struck by the vehicle and injured…”

Fiat Chrysler has been under intense scrutiny from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Last fall the regulatory agency cited the company $105 million for its mishandling of recalls, citing the company significantly underreported death and injury claims.

Clarence Ditlow, the executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a consumer advocacy group, is suggesting that Fiat Chrysler warn its customers not to drive the soon-to-be recalled vehicles and provide them with loaner vehicles. That is an expensive proposition but one that could save lives—which after all, is the right thing to do.  But it will not happen.