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Actor Anton Yelchin – likely most known for his role as Chekov in the Star Trek franchise reboot – died tragically when his 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee rolled backward and pinned him against a brick mailbox pillar and security fence at his home.

A number of reports have mistakenly referred to the incident as a “freak accident”.  [See, for example, here, here, and here.]

Let’s be clear: While tragic, this was not a “freak” accident.  The incident appears to be tied to a well-documented and acknowledged design flaw in the 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee and other Fiat Chrysler vehicles.

Sean Kane at Safety Research & Strategies discussed the Chrysler gearshift defect in-depth back in February 2016.

More than 300 consumers have complained to FCA and NHTSA about the difficulty in shifting the gears or that their vehicles rolled away after they placed the transmission in park, crashing into buildings and trees, causing thousands of dollars of damage, and, in some cases, injuries. Thirty individuals, either caught by surprise, or trying to re-enter the rolling vehicle to stop it, have sustained fractured pelvis, a ruptured bladder, fractured kneecap, broken ribs, a broken nose, facial lacerations requiring stitches, sprained knees and severe bruising when they were run over.


The vehicles’ Monostable electronic gearshift assemblies do not physically move the gearshift into a detent, but send a gear request from the driver via the Controller Area Network (CAN) bus to the Transmission Control Module, which makes the requested shift. To change gears, the driver depresses a button on the shift lever and moves it to the gear position, then the lever springs back to a centered/neutral position. The gear is displayed on the lever and on the dashboard. The driver’s foot must be on the brake to shift gears.


Many of the defect descriptions in the VOQs suggest that some drivers believe they had pushed the gear shift all the way forward to the Park position, but may have actually stopped at the Reverse position next to it. The driver thinks the transmission is in Park and hits the Start/Stop button to turn the vehicle off. But, since the vehicle is not really in Park, the engine continues to run. The engine is quiet, the telltale is inadequate, and so the driver doesn’t notice upon exit that the Jeep is still running and in gear. VOQ 10672445 sums it up nicely:

“When I put the car into park, it pops into reverse. Then I hit the engine off button, but since it is in reverse, the engine stays on. Then I open the door to get out, thinking the engine is off and the car is in Park, and it starts rolling backward. This has happened 6 times.”

Chrysler’s Shifty Shifter and the Wacky World of Defects [Sean Kane at The Safety Record Blog]

This was far from a “freak” accident.  As of April this year, there were more than 700 field reports potentially related to this issue.  These reports include 212 crashes, 308 claims of property damage, and 41 injuries.

Fiat Chrysler issued a voluntary recall because of the gear shift problems.  Vehicles recalled include:

  • 2014 – 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee
  • 2012 – 2014 Dodge Charger
  • 2012 – 2014 Chrysler 300

If you own or drive one of these vehicles, please contact the manufacturer or dealership immediately.

© Copyright 2016 Brett A. Emison

Follow @BrettEmison on Twitter


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