Government Gearshifts? Head-scratching Shifters Shouldn't Make It to Market, Says Ex-NHTSA Head

government gearshifts head scratching shifters shouldnt make it to market says

Parking your car at Walgreens shouldn’t require a tutorial.

That’s the gist of comments made by outgoing National Highway Traffic Safety Administration administrator Mark Rosekind, who really doesn’t like fancy, overly complex automatic transmission gearshifts.

In fact, if Rosekind had his way, automakers would need a green light from the country’s road safety regulator before incorporating a new gearshift design into a production vehicle.

The administrator, who stepped down from his position on Inauguration Day, took on the role in December, 2014. With Rosekind at the helm, the agency became more involved and proactive than in years past, launching investigations and prompting recalls at a steady clip. No longer was it playing catch-up in the wake of ignition switch scandals.

In an Associated Press exit interview, Rosekind worried that the Trump administration could hold back the agency’s progress, though he admits “safety is bipartisan.”

When asked about a recent safety issue — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ monostable gearshift recall — Rosekind tacitly endorsed the idea of a standardized gearshift:

For 50 years it’s always been reactive. Unfortunately reactive means you’ve got to wait until somebody gets hurt or killed before you’re stepping in, the way the system is now. What you’re talking about is premarket approval. This is sometimes where regulation needs to go. It gives you standards, makes it predictable. If you do things opposite of what people expect, then you’re just creating vulnerabilities. If you have to train people on it or basically commit to them getting used to it, it’s much better for it to be intuitive.

Last year, FCA recalled over one million vehicles equipped with the confusing gearshift. By installing an “auto park” feature, the automaker hoped to stop the rollaway incidents behind several injuries and a high-profile death. Still, confusion seems to rein in vehicles lacking a straight-line PRNDL layout. Just recently, Ford installed an auto park feature on its Fusion sedan, which sports a rotary dial shifter.

The Trump administration has yet to name Rosekind’s successor. Time will tell if a future administrator puts the kibosh on imaginative shifters that require more than one action to engage park, or fail to signal a gear change to the perplexed driver.

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  • RobbieAZ RobbieAZ on Jan 24, 2017

    When I test drove my MB, the sales guy showed me how to use the column shifter since I had never used one before. When the drive was over he showed me how to put it in park. That's all the 'training' I needed. It took me all of one trip to get used to it. It isn't that complicated or counter-intuitive. I find it fascinating that people can master their infinitely more complicated smart phones but are thrown for a loop by a simple lever or rotary dial.

  • RedRocket RedRocket on Jan 24, 2017

    I'm surprised nobody mentioned the new shifter design in the Caddy XT5 SUV. I had one as a rental and I drove off the lot in low gear. I had to stop to read the owners manual because all I could get was neutral or park. Reverse was damn near impossible until I read the book. Even after reading the manual it remained utterly non-intuitive. I would never buy one for that awful shifter alone.

  • Dennis Howerton Nice article, Cory. Makes me wish I had bought Festivas when they were being produced. Kia made them until the line was discontinued, but Kia evidently used some of the technology to make the Rio. Pictures of the interior look a lot like my Rio's interior, and the 1.5 liter engine is from Mazda while Ford made the automatic transmission in the used 2002 Rio I've been driving since 2006. I might add the Rio is also an excellent subcompact people mover.
  • Sgeffe Bronco looks with JLR “reliability!”What’s not to like?!
  • FreedMike Back in the '70s, the one thing keeping consumers from buying more Datsuns was styling - these guys were bringing over some of the ugliest product imaginable. Remember the F10? As hard as I try to blot that rolling aberration from my memory, it comes back. So the name change to Nissan made sense, and happened right as they started bringing over good-looking product (like the Maxima that will be featured in this series). They made a pretty clean break.
  • Flowerplough Liability - Autonomous vehicles must be programmed to make life-ending decisions, and who wants to risk that? Hit the moose or dive into the steep grassy ditch? Ram the sudden pile up that is occurring mere feet in front of the bumper or scan the oncoming lane and swing left? Ram the rogue machine that suddenly swung into my lane, head on, or hop up onto the sidewalk and maybe bump a pedestrian? With no driver involved, Ford/Volkswagen or GM or whomever will bear full responsibility and, in America, be ambulance-chaser sued into bankruptcy and extinction in well under a decade. Or maybe the yuge corporations will get special, good-faith, immunity laws, nation-wide? Yeah, that's the ticket.
  • FreedMike It's not that consumers wouldn't want this tech in theory - I think they would. Honestly, the idea of a car that can take over the truly tedious driving stuff that drives me bonkers - like sitting in traffic - appeals to me. But there's no way I'd put my property and my life in the hands of tech that's clearly not ready for prime time, and neither would the majority of other drivers. If they want this tech to sell, they need to get it right.