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Star Trek Actor's Death Inspires Class Action Against Car Manufacturer (cnn.com) 365

Anton Yelchin, who played Chekov in the new Star Trek movies, was killed Sunday when his own vehicle rolled backwards. Now Slashdot reader ripvlan writes: It has recently emerged that his vehicle was a Jeep. As discussed on Slashdot previously consumers are having a hard time knowing if the vehicle is in "Park." A new class action lawsuit is gaining momentum... Also Maserati has a similar system and can join the class action.
In fact, Maserati "is recalling about 13,000 sedans that have the same sort of gear shifter that was used in the Jeep that killed Yelchin," according to CNN Money, and Chrysler Fiat had in fact already filed a recall notice with federal regulators in April for Yelchin's band of Jeep, "but owners had only received a warning and not an official recall notice at the time of Yelchin's death". The lawsuit claims Chrysler "fraudulently concealed and failed to remedy a gear shifter design defect affecting 811,000 vehicles and linked to driverless rollaway incidents," including 2014-2015 Jeep Grand Cherokees, 2012-2014 Chrysler 300s, and 2012-2014 Dodge Chargers.
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Star Trek Actor's Death Inspires Class Action Against Car Manufacturer

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 26, 2016 @08:00AM (#52392269)

    Unfortunately, this is a design issue. A dramatic change from how most people are familiar with selecting gears. There is no tactile feel to knowing your in a certain gear. You have to visually rely on the indicator to know what gear your in. Most people would instinctively think they have selected Park when in fact they have selected Reverse in these cars. What engineer thought this was a good ideal considering the history of gear selection is beyond me. Someone said it was all about making the cup holders bigger? Are you freakin' kidding me? Ford has gone a similar way but with a large dial indicator, which at least gives some tactile feedback along with a selection indicator. Yes, you could argue some of this goes back on the driver incapable of properly operating their vehicle. But the design and function which just doesn't give any physical sense of knowing what gear your in has to bear much of the blame. Chrysler has a major problem on it's hands and a software update won't fix this.

    • Yes, you could argue some of this goes back on the driver incapable of properly operating their vehicle.

      As proven by the fact that neither James Doohan nor Simon Pegg have, AFAWK, made the same mistake.

    • It would be rather interesting to know if they had internally found this particular feature to be problematic. There may have been a product tester that evaluated the design on paper and in prototyping, but their findings were disregarded. Software companies, for example, are often internally aware of serious security and design flaws, but will likely do very little about them until they become public knowledge through a third party. There are a great many cases like that from practically every industry out

      • by PrimaryConsult ( 1546585 ) on Sunday June 26, 2016 @11:02AM (#52392969)

        When I test drove my car (which has this shifter), I complained about it straight away, I find it hard to believe no one voiced concerns. After 2 weeks I got used to it. In bright sun you cannot even see which gear is lit up on the shifter. It is a terrible design but at least there are a few blatant signs that the car is still in gear when you try to stop it:
        1 - Attempting to stop the engine while in gear results in a tone sounding, and the engine continues to run. Ideally with push-to-start cars you should be in the habit of looking for the "run" light to disappear when doing this. I believe I can override by pushing it again, but I have never tested this.
        2 - The car radio will not turn off upon opening the door when the engine is still running.
        3 - If the car is in reverse, the backup camera will be displayed (assuming you have one), another sign that you're not in the right gear.

        That said there have been situations where I've gone from reverse to neutral instead of drive because I didn't perform the right ritual to get the damn thing to shift properly. They had a perfectly good design in the Challenger, Chryslers, and the 2011 and earlier Chargers, as well as the police version of the charger (though that's a dash mounted shifter). Why they didn't do the same for Jeeps and the other cars mentioned in this article is a mystery to me...

        • I find it hard to blame and sue a manufacturer for lack of userfriendliness of their interface. I also don't see much signs of negligence. I think if you're a manufacturer and you get the first signs of accidents the first thing you do is start looking at possible malfunctions. And when that shows up nothing you just end up confused and wait.

          So in this case they've been recalling the cars for some kind of mod since the beginning of the year. What kind of mod is that anyway?

    • It exists for a reason. Yes this shifter is a dumb design, but it doesn't exactlt require a degree to operate it, its little different to a bike sequential shifter and people manage to operate them ok. This is just dumb fools looking for a payout for their own stupidity. And I feel sorry for this actor and his family - but leaving a car on a hill and not even putting the brake on , never mind checking the gears was just asking for a Darwin award nomination.

      • It exists for a reason. Yes this shifter is a dumb design, but it doesn't exactlt require a degree to operate it, its little different to a bike sequential shifter and people manage to operate them ok.

        However, what would happen if some bike manufacturer decided to change from a sequential design to some other one? I'd venture a significant number of riders would have a hard time adjusting and make serious mistakes when they try to operate it. While it would be their own fault the design lead them to making mistakes.

        This is just dumb fools looking for a payout for their own stupidity. And I feel sorry for this actor and his family - but leaving a car on a hill and not even putting the brake on , never mind checking the gears was just asking for a Darwin award nomination.

        While I agree with your sentiments, poor human factor design leads people to make errors and should be considered during the design. Unfortunately, too many designers, wether they are car, ai

        • You probably don't ride a motorbike so you don't know that there are in fact a couple of different options for the gears, depending on the make of the bike.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

          Older British bikes have gear change on the right foot, Japanese and modern bikes have it on the left foot. Common is one down, 3-5 up. Your foot brake may be on the other side than you are used to, depending on the make of bike.

          Most bike riders are aware of the differences and it doesn't take very long to adjust.

          This guy

        • I agree manufacturers should work more on functional design instead of focusing on coolness. It's not an easy subject , and looking at a movie of how this one works it doesn't give the appearance of being that flawed. I still have a book that discusses functional design of door handles(some even need instructions on them , such as 'push') and gas cookers(alright, which knob is for which unit again?)

      • by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Sunday June 26, 2016 @10:08AM (#52392705) Homepage

        That's a very flawed analogy since the bike sequential gear shifter design does not involve a position for safety.

        As soon as you have a system for safety you need to have a solution that clearly indicates that it has a safe position.

        • by fdragon ( 138768 )

          What we may be seeing here is a repeat of what happened in the motorcycle industry happening to the car industry.

          Motorcycle shift patterns have been standardized in US specification bikes since the 1960s due to http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/C... [gpo.gov] to enforce the 1N234 pattern on the left foot peg. Prior to this, it was not uncommon to find UK spec bikes with 32N1 and 1N234. Norton and Triumph are good examples of manufactures that changed during the 1960s when this standard came out.

          Where things get interestin

    • Unfortunately, this is a design issue. A dramatic change from how most people are familiar with selecting gears.

      Most people familiar with gears would never be in this situation as they would use the park brake when parking. It seems to be a distinctly American thing that people throw the car in Park and get out relying on the parking paw to keep their vehicles in place.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Most people familiar with gears would never be in this situation

        People familiar with manual transmissions would FLIP THEIR SHIT if someone decided to make a 5 speed shifter with upper left position 4th gear and bottom center position Reverse for shits and giggles, and YOU KNOW IT.

        Stop trying to defend people fucking up decades old conventions just to be different.

      • It seems to be a distinctly American

        Anton Yelchin was a Russian born in Leningrad you dipshit.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Sunday June 26, 2016 @10:19AM (#52392743)

      Removing tactile feedback in a safety-critical user-interface element is not a problem on the user's side. Even a competent user will get this wrong from time to time. This is a design-screwup of epic proportions. The morons that designed this must not even have the basic course on ergonomic and save design.

      • Removing tactile feedback in a safety-critical user-interface element is not a problem on the user's side. Even a competent user will get this wrong from time to time. This is a design-screwup of epic proportions. The morons that designed this must not even have the basic course on ergonomic and save design.

        My Nissan LEAF also has a gear shifter with no tactile feedback... but it's fine because the car automatically goes into "Park" when you turn it off. In practice, this leads me to screw up in a different way: when I drive other cars -- especially other Nissan cars with an on/off button rather than the normal key-actuated ignition -- I tend to hit the "off button" and then expect to get out and go about my business, leaving the car in "Drive". But Nissan fixed that by making it obvious that the car didn't ac

      • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Sunday June 26, 2016 @03:39PM (#52394313)
        Safety engineers are pretty low on the totem pole in the auto design process. One of the safety engineers at BMW gave a guest lecture in my grad school structural engineering course. You'd think with a luxury brand like BMW safety would be a priority, but no. The artists do their thing first - they get to design what the car's shape will be like and where all the main areas like seating, wheels, trunk, etc. will go. Then the engineers who make the essential components like the engine and transmission have to figure out how to install their components into the shape and layout predicated by the artist. The safety engineer comes dead last. He's given a weight budget of x kg of steel, and has to decide where to put it to make the vehicle pass government crash safety tests, while staying within the bounds of the artist's body design and avoiding other already-designed components like the engine.

        So the "morons who designed this" probably never had to take a basic course on ergonomic and safe design. They're free to design whatever the hell they wanted, and it was up to people who came after them to make it functional and safe. I suspect that's why the Teslas do so well on safety tests. They probably put the safety engineers higher in the pecking order, so they can actually put the strengthening beams and crumple zone in the optimal place, and it becomes the artists' and other engineers' jobs to work around these structural elements.
    • There are many problems there.
      A car with automatic gearing that can detect if a certain seat has a passenger and that passenger has not fasten his seat belt is unable to automatically switch into 'park' when no driver is inside?
      Or am I the first one who had this idea?

  • by willworkforbeer ( 924558 ) on Sunday June 26, 2016 @08:03AM (#52392277)
    "The gear selector in these vehicles always remains upright. The driver moves it forward or back to select a gear, but it then returns to its original upright position."
    • And where is the park brake?

    • by iris-n ( 1276146 )

      Wow. This is an incredibly stupid design decision. I have driven several different automatic vehicles. All of them had a special position to park and reverse (at least).

  • Why? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ledow ( 319597 ) on Sunday June 26, 2016 @08:08AM (#52392295) Homepage

    As someone who drives a car with an electronic handbrake, it eludes me as to why that feature, which auto-releases when I pull away (DANGEROUS!), and auto-applies when I've braked manually on a hill until the car pulls forward, does NOT automatically apply when the engine is off entirely.

    I got out of my car on my drive (fortunately quite flat) after driving a friend to my house. They were in the car and I parked, pulled the handbrake (really a switch) and got out. And the car rolled away. Maybe I didn't pull it properly, or maybe I tapped a pedal on the way out, but for whatever reason it decided to let me get out of the car without the parking brake on without a warning.

    Fortunately, I was only half-out so I was able to jump in and press the footpedal as it rolled away but I spent the next afternoon doing nothing but testing it, on hills and other scenarios. It totally destroyed what little trust I'd built in that feature (I hate unnecessary electronic systems anyway, but I was getting "used" to that to help on hill-starts, etc.).

    My question is why? Why does it apply for pointless situations that you always have been used to having to manually doing something (hillstarts), but not when the engine has just been switched off, the driver unbuckled, the door just opened. If you WANT to tow it, it would be a cinch to push the button down deliberately for a second (which indicates definite intention to release the brake), but why would you not auto-apply in the ONE situation that you need to.

    I tested it and I can even double-lock the car and it will still let it roll away and not apply the brake. The only "warning" is lack of a brake symbol on the dash.

    Useless fecking features, check.
    Critical safety feature that's obviously going to be needed once the driver gets used to the automatic system, nah, we'll just leave that out.

    Now I just have to go back to when I first learned to drive and pause, hands hovering over the wheel, for a second before I open the door in case there's something I did that didn't take effect. It shouldn't be necessary.

    Still convinced that I pressed the damn button, though, because I could not replicate that roll-away, but if there's an automatic system like that, it's the work of a second to make it infinitely safer with a simple update.

    • ... and auto-applies when I've braked manually on a hill until the car pulls forward,,,

      Sounds useless if you're parked nose downhill.

    • it eludes me as to why that feature, which auto-releases when I pull away (DANGEROUS!), and auto-applies when I've braked manually on a hill until the car pulls forward, does NOT automatically apply when the engine is off entirely.

      Simple, sometimes you need to roll a car when its powered off

  • by Ecuador ( 740021 ) on Sunday June 26, 2016 @08:08AM (#52392297) Homepage

    I've been reading about this electronic shifter issue for some time before Anton's unfortunate death and I could not understand the insistence of Chrysler to keep at it for years when there were over 100 documented crashes and so many complaints. Sure, I understand that it doesn't actually fail, it is user error, but if you have to (literally) put bells and whistles in place to warn drivers they have selected the wrong position, you should realize that you are doing something wrong. Additionally, it must cost a lot more than the simple mechanical stick that everybody knows how to use, so there should be some important reason to put it in cars, and yet I haven't come across any praise for it in reviews etc. Are there people who look for it when buying a car? I would expect not, while an electronic shifter might appeal to someone buying a manual transmission car (yeah, electronic shift like formula-1 baby!), we are talking about automatic transmission here, the only job of the stick is to switch modes unambiguously (and preferably fast - it is always one movement with the standard stick, it could be multiple as I understand it with the electronic type). In the end, when you've "dumbed-down" (not necessarily in a bad sense) driving with an auto transmission, you shouldn't expect having no problems when you change something as basic as that.
    Unless I've missed something and it is an option on Chrysler cars, not the standard shifter. Otherwise, I don't get it...

    • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Sunday June 26, 2016 @08:45AM (#52392419) Journal

      I've been reading about this electronic shifter issue for some time before Anton's unfortunate death and I could not understand the insistence of Chrysler to keep at it for years when there were over 100 documented crashes and so many complaints.

      The redesign itself would be an admission of design flaw, thus instigating momentum for an official recall.

    • by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Sunday June 26, 2016 @09:04AM (#52392487) Journal

      I've been reading about this electronic shifter issue for some time before Anton's unfortunate death and I could not understand the insistence of Chrysler to keep at it for years when there were over 100 documented crashes and so many complaints.

      Chrysler is keeping at it because it's easier to run a wire than to run a mechanical linkage. Without worrying about the linkage, they can use the same transmission in multiple styles of vehicle. It's probably easier for electronic traction control as well. As far as sales, adding the word "electronic" in front of things boosts sales. Adding bells and whistles is merely an adjustment to the vehicles software. Besides, "over 100 documented crashes" is barely on the radar when it comes to fundamental shifts (if you'll pardon the expression) in technology.

      • by beanpoppa ( 1305757 ) on Sunday June 26, 2016 @10:37AM (#52392823)
        You can still have a gear selector that for all intents and purposes, looks and operates like a mechanical linkage but merely is an electrical switch sending signals through a wire.
      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        If they want to make it electrical, they should do it right. Have a multi-position switch, a stepper, a codewheel for feedback, and a bit of simple logic. Now the look, feel, and actual operation of the lever matches decades of driver expectation and they get the freedom of positioning.

        Of course, they still leave the owner screwed if the battery goes dead and they need to move the car to fix it.

    • Sure, I understand that it doesn't actually fail, it is user error, but if you have to (literally) put bells and whistles in place to warn drivers they have selected the wrong position,

      The user error here is not turning off the engine, not engaging the hand brake, and not curbing/turning the wheel. There are no UI problems with any of those steps.

      In the end, when you've "dumbed-down" (not necessarily in a bad sense) driving with an auto transmission

      People operating cars with automatic transmissions are stil

      • There was only one user error: not turning the engine off.
        The rest is a question of taste and situation, or do you really want to tell us you are turning the wheel in your garage? And what would that have helped rolling backward one yard?

        parking it properly, a procedure that is largely unrelated to the transmission.
        In a computer game? Probably. In areal car, it is.

        Your introduction was more a matter of taste, your ending is: you have no clue about cars.

  • I don't buy it (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fnj ( 64210 ) on Sunday June 26, 2016 @08:10AM (#52392309)

    I'm having a hard time buying this "difficulty to know when it is in park" premise. Yes, the shifter design is silly/stupid, and I wouldn't favor it. But, come on. There is an indicator light (actually I think there are two, no?). If it lights up "P", it is in park. If it doesn't light up "P", it is NOT in park. How hard is that? Additionally, the chime when you open the door and it is not in park should be a giant clue.

    I just don't get it. The case is sad and regrettable, but I don't see any wrongdoing and it shouldn't be legally actionable. If I'm missing something, please inform me.

    • Re:I don't buy it (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 26, 2016 @08:25AM (#52392367)

      I was of the same impression till a friend showed me his jeep. The design is flawed. First, the indicator on the stick shifter is not red, so in bright light it not possible to see what gear selection you selected. There should be no question if the car is in park, the driver should not be covering the handle to create a shadow in order to see the gear indicator on the shifter. Second, you have to pull the handle forward and wait for it cycle through and put it in park, so if you don't hold long enough it won't go into park. In my opinion, when in park, the gear shifter should stay forward in my opinion.

      • Re:I don't buy it (Score:5, Insightful)

        by willworkforbeer ( 924558 ) on Sunday June 26, 2016 @10:33AM (#52392809)
        And I am really surprised at the responses, here of all places ... I thought a basic UI principle evetyone understood is this: "Make it easy to use, and hard to misuse"
        • LOL, seriously? You're surprised to find people on Slashdot blaming the user instead of the design?

          This place is full of people who take pride in operating complex interfaces and wail at the thought of "dumbing things down" for "stupid regular users". It's technical-literacy elitism.

          It's the same crowd still expecting the Year of the Linux Desktop, and claiming Apple only became* successful because of good marketing.

          * I use past tense here because I'm the first to admit Apple has taken some steps backward [fastcodesign.com]

    • I'm having a hard time buying this "difficulty to know when it is in park" premise. Yes, the shifter design is silly/stupid, and I wouldn't favor it. But, come on. There is an indicator light (actually I think there are two, no?). If it lights up "P", it is in park. If it doesn't light up "P", it is NOT in park. How hard is that? Additionally, the chime when you open the door and it is not in park should be a giant clue.

      I just don't get it. The case is sad and regrettable, but I don't see any wrongdoing and it shouldn't be legally actionable. If I'm missing something, please inform me.

      I have a car with this shifter and you are right in that there are two indicators of the shift position, one on the dash and one on the shifter itself. In addition, drivers should be using the parking brake as outlined in the manual.

      In fact, prior to Anton Yelchin's death, I had received the recall notice from Jeep which includes instructions on how to use the shifter, to apply the parking brake whenever parking the car, and that they would be coming out with a fix. It also included a How-To sheet to keep

      • ... to apply the parking brake whenever parking the car...

        I suspect that most people don't do this except when parking on a steep hill.

    • Re:I don't buy it (Score:5, Informative)

      by cellocgw ( 617879 ) <[cellocgw] [at] [gmail.com]> on Sunday June 26, 2016 @08:26AM (#52392375) Journal

      The objection is that this is a serious deviation from a longstanding and well-understood interface. In all other cars, you can tell by feel or by position of the shift lever whether it's in PARK or not. Making the driver depend on a display -- in a different view angle -- is a crappy kludge to cover a serious design bug.

      I recommend reading AskTog's columns on UI design, as well as Joel Spolsky's articles on UI and general app design. You'll see the reasons this joystick-shifter design is a disaster.

    • I have difficulty with this concept as I leave my car in neutral. I once had to emergency brake and an unsecured steel beam hit my shifter bending it just enough that I could no longer get the car in park.

      It never rolled away.

      That's what the handbrake is for.

    • When parking your car do you always check the indicator lights? Everyone else knows by tactile feedback that the shifter is fully forward its in park.

  • It's in park if you put it there.

    I can't think of any good reason not to put the thing in park when you turn off the engine and want it to stay in place. Engage the parking brake while you're at it, single fault safety and all that.

    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      And 3 decades of driving tells me that you put it in park by pressing the little button on the side of the shifter and moving the lever forward until it stops. OOps, that doesn't work now. Gee, I hope it's not too bright out to read the little indicator lights.

  • Prius has a tiny shifter in the dash, quite insignificant actually compared to a real shiter. And it has a very prominent indicator in the dash to show you P, N, D, R and something called B for engine braking. It was completely new so I got used to looking at the dash and the large P button with a green LED. Anyway its parking brake is totally mechanical and I press it all the way. So I am more confident about Prius.

    BMW X3 on the other hand has a traditional shifter and shows the position clearly. But its

  • When you leave the car, use the parking brake (and curb your wheels when on an incline). It's actually the law in some states. Anybody who doesn't do that and relies on the "P" setting of their automatic transmission isn't just a risk to themselves but also a risk to others. That's not just because relying on "P" alone creates a single point of failure for a multi-ton lethal projectile, but also because the "P" setting simply isn't designed to guarantee immobilization of a car. While it's sad that Yelchin d

  • ... famous.

    Celebrities have more value than commoners?

  • "Rumor versus fact"

    In modern aircraft (that is to say from dawn of glass cockpits), pilots have been taught to reference FMAs (flight mode annunciators) as depicted on the PFD rather than switch positions. As to what mode is selected, a button push is a rumor, an FMA is a fact. Classic example: most Airbus have an electric switch that selects the parking brake and a triple gauge that shows brake pressure. There have been numerous occasions where pilots set the switch to "on" but failed to check the gauge r

  • by elistan ( 578864 ) on Sunday June 26, 2016 @03:35PM (#52394293)
    My 2013 BMW has a shifter that's the "spring back to rest position" type. But BMW's design hasn't led to any roll-away issues whatsoever that I've heard of. I think there are a few design-related reasons why. The first is how the gears are actually selected - push the lever forwards to select reverse, pull the lever backwards to select drive. This is in contrast with the Chrysler shift where appears to be a pull-back regardless of whether you want to go into Reverse or Drive from Park. Also, the BMW shifter has a push-button that does nothing but tell the car to go into Park, so it's obvious when the Park command has been given. With the Chrysler shifter, the command to go into Park from Drive is to push the lever forward - which is the same motion to put the car into Neutral from Drive, but you have to move the shifter further for the Park function. I can see how this can be very unclear for the driver. Finally, BMW has programmed the car to go into Park if the driver's door is opened, even if it is moving slowly which can be quite jarring I've heard. (I know of nobody who has tested opening the door while at highway speeds. :) ) Mostly, people on the BMW forums have been complaining how difficult it is to get the car into Neutral and keep it there.

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