Looks Can Kill: The Deadly Results of Flawed Design
Lena Groeger reports in ProPublica:
Earlier this summer, 27-year-old actor Anton Yelchin was crushed to death when his Jeep Grand Cherokee rolled downhill, pinning him against the security gate in front of his Los Angeles home. No one will ever know exactly what happened in the moments before the accident. But we know that his car is one of more than 1.1 million Jeep and Dodge vehicles that are part of a recall by Fiat Chrysler. The problem? Flawed design.
Specifically, it’s the unintuitive automatic shifter, which can make drivers think they’ve put the car in park when they haven’t. If a driver were to exit the car with the engine not in park, all 5,000 pounds of the vehicle could roll away, crashing into any objects (or people) in its path.
Here’s the issue. Traditional automatic-transmission shifters slide to a certain position and stay there, giving you tangible and visual clues about what gear the car is in. The “monostable shifter” in some Chrysler cars, on the other hand, moves and then returns to the center position, no matter what gear it’s in. Besides some subtle clicks as you switch gears, there is nothing beside the tiny letters on dashboard or on the shifter itself (conveniently located right under your hand) to show you what gear you’re in.
That said, if you do try to get out of the car when it’s not in park, warning chimes will go off and alert messages appear on the dashboard. According to Chrysler, “investigation suggested these measures may be insufficient to deter some drivers from exiting their vehicles.”
This flawed shifter “is not intuitive and provides poor tactile and visual feedback to the driver, increasing the potential for unintended gear selection,” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wrote in a report issued earlier this year.
Problems with the shifter have been implicated in over 100 crashes and dozens of serious injuries, including three cases of a fractured pelvis, a ruptured bladder, a fractured kneecap, broken ribs, a broken nose, facial lacerations requiring stitches, sprained knees, severe bruising, and trauma to legs. If the confusing shifter did contribute to Anton Yelchin’s fatal accident, it would be the first known death attributed to it. His family has filed suit against Fiat Chrysler, claiming that the vehicle and gear shift were “defective in design” and “dangerous to life and limb.” . . .
Continue reading. Photo of the shifter at the link.
Later in the article:
. . . The current recall would not actually change the design of the monostable shifter. It’s a software update that will automatically shift the car into park if the driver fails to do so before opening the driver’s-side door. It doesn’t correct the flawed usability design, but it does put in place a fail-safe to prevent accidents.
Yelchin’s death is tragic. But it’s not the first time – nor the last – that bad design has proven dangerous to life and limb. Many of these design problems are easily fixed, which can make them all the more maddening.
Take, for example, . . .