The shifter, which has been linked to 266 crashes and 68 injuries, may be confusing for some drivers as it automatically returns to a centered position after a gear is selected. If the user does not pay close attention to which gear is engaged, it may be easy for them to think the vehicle is in ‘Park’ when in reality, it is in ‘Neutral’ or ‘Drive’.
Audi used the same electronically controlled ZF-brand shifter in the 2011 model year Audi A8, however the brand decided to add a safety feature to prevent rollaways. In the full-size luxury sedan, the vehicle will automatically engage the parking brake when the door is opened, preventing any accidental rollaways.
“Getting (the safety feature) to activate is really simple, it is nothing more than software,” Trahan said. “It is just writing code. Just about everybody can write code today.”
The problem of FCA’s confusing shifter came into the public spotlight after Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin was killed after being pinned against a mailbox by his 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee. The vehicle, which is equipped with the ZF electric shifter, may have rolled forward after the actor exited the car and thought he had engaged ‘Park’. Local authorities are still investigating the accident.
When asked about Audi’s decision to add a safety feature to vehicles with the electronic shifter, FCA said their design “does not compromise safety,” and “functions as intended if operating instructions are followed. Customers have safely exited these vehicles on hundreds of millions of occasions.”
Vehicles with the shifter include the 2012-2014 MY Dodge Charger, 2012-2014 Chrysler 300 and 2014-15 MY Jeep Grand Cherokee. FCA’s recall will add a feature to affected vehicles that automatically engages park when the door is opened. The automaker no longer uses the shifter in its 2016 and 2017 MY vehicles.