By on January 23, 2017

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit Interior, Shifter, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

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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143 Comments on “Government Gearshifts? Head-scratching Shifters Shouldn’t Make It to Market, says ex-NHTSA Head...”


  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    I for one don’t mind electronic shifters, I do mind bad design.

    • 0 avatar
      orenwolf

      I accept bad design. I wish it didn’t exist, but hey, that’s what you voting wallet is for. I don’t accept bad design proven to be potentially fatal, though.

      • 0 avatar
        EBFlex

        If you can’t figure out a simple to use shifter, the problem is not the shifter.

        Things change and people adapt all the time. If you are unwilling to adapt or if you are so careless as to exit your vehicle without securing it, then no amount of overreaching government regulation can save you from your own stupidity.

        • 0 avatar
          VoGo

          Obviously not a Star Trek fan or a Ford fan.

          • 0 avatar
            EBFlex

            Either of which are relevant to this thread. But thanks for following me around bad and posting complete nonsense.

            Oh I’m not a fan of olives too. You can nonsensically post that in the future too.

        • 0 avatar
          orenwolf

          EBFlex, I can understand that position only when the design *isn’t killing people*. That’s a bar I’m not willing to cross to get people to adapt. If you design leads to deaths you either 1) launch a massive campaign and research project to understand the issue and educate so people don’t die, or 2) you remove the fucking design so people don’t die.

          You don’t get on a soapbox and tell people that the individuals in question didn’t understand the design and were therefore too stupid to live.

          • 0 avatar
            EBFlex

            But the design didn’t kill him. Further, you’re making quite the leap by saying that not understanding the design = death. That’s not even close to what I said. Re-read what I said slowly, use your finger if you need to.

            The absolute worst that should have came from that situation was a cracked up Jeep. When he was outside the vehicle, the shifter didn’t make him walk behind it. That was his choice as was leaving the vehicle before it was secured.

          • 0 avatar
            orenwolf

            Now you’re just victim blaming. Fact is, when people are injured or slain because they believe they are using your product safely when in fact they are not, then you need to rethink the design. Unless you have a depraved indifference to human life or something. claiming “There’s nothing wrong with the design, these people were using it wrong” may be true on its face, but it’s also unethical to ignore the consequences of that same design.

        • 0 avatar
          raph

          So allowing manufacturers to go willy-nilly on shifter design (never mind prior to this there were essentially two designs which were fairly intuitive, universal and easy to operate) and implementing poorly thought out designs that detract from the successful operation of a vehicle should go unregulated?

          And its not like vehicle manufacturers haven’t been down this road before (looking at you push-button shifter) and that was a time when Americans at least were considered superior to the supposedly knuckle-dragging degenerates that infest the country today.

          • 0 avatar

            @raph

            If a car is unsafe in operation, then the NHTSA will have the manufacturer fix the problem. No lack of regulation.

            Where this article takes us is in the direction of pre approval of a design. That is wrong handed and Manufacturers should be allowed to design as they wish; with the full knowledge that they will pay dearly if their design turns out to be unsafe in the real world. Manufacturers have safety personnel on staff, its the manufacturer’s job to design a safe car, not the governments.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    I don’t like increased regulation but I also don’t like needlessly complex gear shifters. What about a sliding mechanical or electronic PRNDL lever needed improvement? Why should I have to jab at a small “P” button to park?

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      I don’t like it myself, if I want a complex shifter I’ll buy a manual.

    • 0 avatar
      EJWoods

      Nonsensical designs = bad, but foregoing a traditional linkage and replacing it with something more compact, and away from a location where other elements can be packaged is not change for change’s sake.

      We just need someone to design one of these to be idiot proof and obvious in operation.

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      With positive detents to indicate each gear as you move through the quadrant.

      I fail to see what is so wrong about that? Does it really detract from the owner/driver experience if somebody unfamiliar with the vehicle gets in and can intuitively operate the vehicle without having pulled the owner’s manual from the glove box and read it cover to cover.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I’m sorry but who thinks that a rotary dial shifter is better than other forms of shifters?

    And who thinks that a touchscreen is better, safer or more efficient that dials/knobs?

    Or that a pushbutton starter is better or more efficient than a key start ignition?

    Weren’t push button starters considered antiquated and inefficient sometime in the 1940’s.

    And weren’t push button gear selectors tried and considered an total failure in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s? Wasn’t a push button gear selector system one of the traits that doomed the Edsel?

    Are auto makers changing just for the sake of change?
    And are some automotive consumers just ‘fashion victims’.
    Isn’t fashion the ability of marketers to inform you that what you are wearing looks hideous, convince you to buy their newest product and then 6 to 12 months later reveal to you how hideous what you previously bought from them really is and then sell you something new?

    Sorry but I now have to go yell at a cloud.

    • 0 avatar
      OldManPants

      Make Muscle Memory Great Again!

      You once could simply *feel* when the column shifter clunked into the correct position.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        As much as I’ve grown to like column shifters I will admit it took me a week or so to adjust.

        Gimme a key anyway over a button, you can’t hack into a key ignition (unless you have a screwdriver and lots of precision).

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        Column shifters have the same problem as rotary ones: you can blow right past the gear you want to be in. At least floor shifters are easier to articulate.

        The best design is floor or console shifters with nice, chunky gates that you need to work around to select another gear. Plus, and this is a nice bonus, the shifter’s arm lines up against the gear you’re actually in.

        You can’t design a better interface than that: context, function and failsafe, all in one. It was literally perfect.

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          That’s exactly what I did before I adjusted, be it going into neutral rather than reverse or 2 instead of drive.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          I don’t think you’re using the word “failsafe” correctly.

        • 0 avatar
          bunkie

          I now have almost a year living with dash-mounted buttons in my MKZ. The buttons are big, easy-to-read (with the selected position lighting up in red) and are conveniently placed while, still, being out of the way. There are zero issues with it. Even better, it allows for a shelf below the center console, a very convenient thing to have.

          The console-mounted shifter in automatic-transmission vehicles is a leftover from another age when “four-on-the-floor” was considered “sporty”. It has some functionality in manu-matics that lack paddles, but that’s it. For this “feature” we give up space in the most valuable real-estate area within a vehicle’s interior. I don’t miss it one little bit.

        • 0 avatar
          shaker

          I dunno – a friend had a 5yo RAV4 with an auto, and the zig-zag gate shifter was vague and hard to figure out (maybe it was broken).

          • 0 avatar
            JustPassinThru

            The zig-zag has been apparently standard in most Toyota models for some years. I’ve seen it in newer Tacos and in, IIRC, a Corolla.

            It’s to replace the button lockout of older American floor-shift automatics. And it duplicates the action of American auto column-shifters of the 1970s – you had to pull the handle towards you to get it out of P; and then to move from D or N to R. Going between N and D, there was no lifting action required. 2 would require a yank, and L a bigger yank.

            As for muscle-memory and touch screens…I don’t have them but I hate them on my TomTom and my tablet. I don’t want them on a car. But that’s what the buyer can do – vote with his money.

            In the past, government edicts took away, for forty years, push-button shifting; made the PRNDLoL quadrant universal. NO fresh design or rethinking of controls were allowed. It was only by stages, and with electronic-versus-mechanical shifting, that we finally got out of THAT.

            But it upsets our keepers, who have a burning need to be needed. And of course the slip-and-fall loy-yehs have had something to do with this – always looking for a clever narrative to sell to pool jurors, all of them on the dark side of the Bell Curve.

            This, and trade barriers…regulators gone wild…I think we’re looking at twenty years of darkness in the motor industry. Which is longer than I, for one, have.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          @psarhjinian

          Mercedes had this perfected for a good 40 years, then totally screwed it up.

    • 0 avatar
      White Shadow

      Push button ignition is super convenient. I don’t take my keys out of my pocket. It almost seems like a chore to dig a key out of my pocket, find the key slot, and actually have to turn the key. OMG, how spoiled I have become! Haha, seriously though, it’s just so convenient to hop in, press a button, and go.

    • 0 avatar
      bryanska

      Old Man Yells at Cloud is my second favorite behind Congressman Les Whynin.

      I like rotary, i’ve rented three 200s and I really do like the rotary shifter. I find it totally intuitive and have never had a problem. However I have long fingers and no arthritis, maybe that makes it easier for me.

      I also have a 300 with the troublesome shifter above. I don’t know why this can’t be a sliding shifter. Maybe it doesn’t need to be as long as a traditional shifter, but the format could be the same.

      I’ve never driven a button shifter car and would need a seriously seamless experience if I were to be in favor of it. I like a moving piece of something to physically put into gear.

    • 0 avatar
      orenwolf

      “Or that a pushbutton starter is better or more efficient than a key start ignition?”

      Ever broken a key? Ever been on a long roadtrip and you can’t *stand* the fact that your keys are jingling against the column (or your leg?), but can’t seem to get them into a position where they won’t do that? Ever gotten into you car in the dead of winter only to realize your keys are four layers down in your clothing?

      UI aside, the idea that you can just get into your car and hit start and things just work is actually an enhancement over what was there before, unlike the other things you mention.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        While I like keys I’ll admit they come with some discomfort, be it yanking them from my pockets or in the case of my old Volvo’s, they’d slowly carve into my knee.

        Push buttons fine so long as the anti theft measures are halfway decent.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Denver

      Modern keyless ignitions and button shifters are different than the old kind. Modern push button start is enabled by the existence of proximity keys. In the old kind, you still had to have a key but then had to press a separate button. Usually the starter button was on the floor and engaged the starter motor directly (before there were starter solenoids).

      Likewise, Edsel push buttons were connected to a mechanical linkage whereas modern transmissions shift electronically.

      Sometimes it makes sense to keep the old interface and just convert it to an electronic switch. The gas pedal for example. But a big shift lever takes up a lot of real estate that could be used for something else. That being said, the monostable shifter takes up almost as much room so is pointless but getting rid of the big (and now totally unnecessary) shift lever in favor of a dial frees up a fair amount of space.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        even if you have an actual key you stick into a lock cylinder, then twist to start the car, it’s still the same as a push button start. The transponder verifies the key, then when you turn it the switch sends a signal to the BCM which then tells the PCM to crank the engine until it starts.

    • 0 avatar
      BigOldChryslers

      > Wasn’t a push button gear selector system one of the traits that doomed the Edsel?

      The pushbutton shifter of the Edsel was actually an extra-cost option, which most customers purchased. The reason that it was “bad” had nothing to do with the fact that it was push-button, but the system was overly complex and prone to failure, leaving the driver stranded. The pushbuttons were in the middle of the steering wheel. They activated electrical solenoids which worked the mechanical shifter arms on the transmission case.

      Mopars also had a pushbutton shifter through MY1964. It was located on the dashboard, and worked a cable-operated shift mechanism. Simple, reliable, liked by many owners. Chrysler stopped using it for MY1965 because they thought it might be preventing conquest sales from Ford and GM.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        As a young teenager drove many miles and nights in my best friends push button Plymouth.

        If I remember correctly they had a fairly high failure rate? Or perhaps that was just our experience driving old, worn out cars?

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I will take keyless entry and go all day everyday over fumbling around with keys. Walk up to the car, touch the handle, it unlocks, get in, push the button, engine starts. Perfect. Only thing better would be if it started as soon as you unlock the door.

      Otherwise I mostly agree with you.

  • avatar
    White Shadow

    I have the exact shifter pictured in my 2015 Grand Cherokee. It’s not overly complex and the learning curve to use it takes, well, maybe 5 seconds. I think people just need to put on their big boy pants and stop complaining about something as trivial as an electronic shifter.

    BTW, BMW and MB have been using electronic shifters for years now and I don’t think it has been a big problem.

    • 0 avatar
      HahnZahn

      You’re not right.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      The average Chrysler buyer is a bit different than the average German car buyer.

      • 0 avatar
        White Shadow

        “Chrysler, well if it’s getting people hurt they have every right to complain.”

        Getting people hurt? Hmm…interesting. So most people have heard about the Star Trek actor who actually died because HE failed to put his Grand Cherokee in the Park position. Other than that well-known news story, how many other people have been “hurt” or “killed” because they failed to put their vehicle in Park?

        Now here’s the interesting part–how many people have been hurt or killed over the years when they failed to put their vehicle in Park when they had a conventional PRNDL gear selector? Do a little research and you’ll see it’s not all that uncommon. So before we crap on Chrysler, we should at least be fair and look at the facts.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          BMW and MB do use the same shifter, except those will slam the car into “PARK” when you try to exit while it’s in gear (or generally not in PARK).

          Chryslers don’t. Oops! That’s the primary reason BMW, MB (and Ford/others) aren’t a “problem” per se, even if they’re occasionally a hassle for their owners, drivers, valet, or operators in general.

          • 0 avatar
            Jimal

            Is it park, or does it apply the parking brake? Its been a while since I tried backing an Audi into a parking space and tried opening the door to line things up.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Opening the door engages (or shifts into) Park, if it’s not already in Park. Except not on Chryslers/Jeeps though, hence this SNAFU.

          • 0 avatar
            White Shadow

            That was true early on. They updated the software via a voluntary recall so that they do automatically put the vehicle into Park now…

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          The facts say the traditional PRNDL setup has been around for decades, naturally it’s going to have a more troubled history.

          If you prefer an e-shifter that’s fine. I prefer column shifters. I just think Chrysler’s design is a bit silly, if you like it enjoy it, no need for defense walls.

      • 0 avatar
        White Shadow

        Well, I’m both. 2015 Jeep and 2016 Audi.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          The Hollywood actor’s Cherokee should’ve let him know the vehicle wasn’t in PARK by immediately rolling backwards, when letting off the brakes (on a steep driveway), (if not some other, door activated ‘chime’).

          It’s that ‘handy feature’ (?) “Hill Assist” that line-locks the brakes for a few seconds, that gave him just enough time to get behind the truck.

          • 0 avatar
            White Shadow

            First, the vehicle does chime if you turn off the engine and open the driver’s door without putting the vehicle into Park. Secondly, the hill assist didn’t come into play here, at least from what I read. The issue is that the vehicle was stopped on a very slight slope and it took a moment for it to start rolling, obviously picking up more speed as the slope increased. This makes perfect sense because the hill assist only holds for maybe 3 seconds, which is barely enough time to unbuckle the seatbelt and open the door. Besides, I’ve never tested it, but I highly doubt hill assist will work with the ignition off.

          • 0 avatar
            SC5door

            The hill assist only works with the vehicle in drive or reverse.

            Also, on the FCA vehicles with an electric parking brake the vehicle will automatically apply the parking brake if the vehicle has not been placed into PARK. It came out on the 200, long before Ford was tooting their horn about the “feature” on the Fusion.

          • 0 avatar
            EBFlex

            “It’s that ‘handy feature’ (?) “Hill Assist” that line-locks the brakes for a few seconds, that gave him just enough time to get behind the truck.”

            First you say it’s the shifters fault that the kid didn’t secure his vehicle before exiting. Now you say it’s hill start assist without knowing how hill start assist works.

            Why don’t we just blame the true culprit….the contractor that installed the driveway at such a dangerous angle. Had the driveway been level, the Jeep would not have rolled backwards.

            Open and shut case.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Anything’s possible, but with his very steep driveway (Google Street View, News pictures, etc) he would’ve been blocking the narrow street, to find a nearly level spot. We can mostly speculate, but he obviously wasn’t paying attention to his actions. Had he turned it OFF, it would’ve went into PARK before he could exit. It had to be ON/running and in DRIVE.

            Either way, the “voluntary” recall was a little after this accident. He did screw up, but so did Chrysler/Jeep. MB, BMW and others had the foresight and had the software integrated long before this whole mess.

          • 0 avatar
            EBFlex

            “He did screw ip, but so did Chrysler/Jeep.”

            How, exactly, did Jeep “screw up”? How did Jeep somehow contribute to him exiting the vehicle before properly securing it? How did Jeep contribute to him walking behind the vehicle he chose not to secure? It’s insane to try and blame the manufacturer for any of this. He CHOSE to exit the vehicle on a hill without securing it and he CHOSE to walk behind an unsecured, moving vehicle. Jeep, Chrysler, ZF, the guy who installed the driveway had nothing to do with this.

            I know in today’s world, snowflakes refuse to hold anyone personally responsible for their actions but come on. This is so blatant.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Yes humans will be humans. They’re not selling to robots.

            It used to be, and without even thinking about, and focused on a million other things, you just slammed the shifter up, it hit the ‘stop’, you released the thing and it slipped into the PARK, “Locked position”.

            Figure the actual driving of a car, or use of a car, is 2nd nature. Or it should be.

            It certainly gets to be what we’re *also* doing, while handling our business. Loading the kids, unloading the groceries, feeding the dog, setting the security system, checking the mailbox, reading the e-mail, and of course, all the while juggling a cellphone and tossing in all the specific gear/stuff you’ll need for the trip/day/etc.

            But one day, manufacturers decided it’d be totally cool if the “shifter” was simply a Space Age, rotary, electronic gizmo, they could assemble in much less time, with almost zero mechanical hardware/linkages/cables/clips between the shifter and transmission. Just a wire harness, plug-n-play! What a terrific idea! Especially for the carmaker!!

            Maybe some foresight should be put into the new tech, that also cancels the well established automotive system or thought pattern we’ve been accustom to? “What if this?” or “What if that?”?

            Other manufacturers had already done the thinking, all the homework. Chrysler almost had to go out_of_their_way to avoid the safety aspect here. Yes they are totally on the hook for this LITTLE oversight.

      • 0 avatar
        EBFlex

        “The average Chrysler buyer is a bit different than the average German car buyer.”

        The irony dripping from the above post could fill Lake Mead.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    If you suddenly change the way a shifter has looked and worked for decades, some people will NOT use them correctly, and some of those people WILL die as a result. No way around it. Apparently the auto industry has decided that’s the price of “progress”.

    • 0 avatar
      White Shadow

      So what’s the alternative? Never change? Because a learning curve is required for some people? That’s obviously not the answer either. Motor vehicles will change over time and we all have the responsibility to understand how to operate them safely.

      I had a similar debate with someone a while ago who hated the idea of airbags in cars. I couldn’t understand his point when he told me that airbags have killed people by deploying unintentionally. While that may be true (and obviously really sucks for those victims), airbags have saved countless lives as well. I know it’s not really a direct comparison with something like an electronic shifter, but it does illustrate the fact that we all have to adapt to change as it occurs.

      • 0 avatar
        OldManPants

        If the functions of a conventional AT haven’t changed in 60 years why must the ingrained method for selecting them do so?

        • 0 avatar
          White Shadow

          You can say that about anything though. If things never change, they will always be the same. Sounds obvious, I know, but you can’t stop progress.

          Let me ask you this–can you think of any reason why ANY manufacturer would engineer an electronic shift mechanism to replace a manual one? Is there any benefit at all? Give it some thought…

          • 0 avatar
            philadlj

            I was merely stating the facts about new-fangled shifters. Fiddle with the design, people die, lawsuits are filed, automakers lose money.

            I’m all for progress in other areas, not answering questions no one asked, and especially not with such an important device that creates needless confusion, injury, and death.

            There’s a reason steering wheels are round and pedals are shaped and sized the way they are.

          • 0 avatar
            OldManPants

            “Give it some thought…”

            Of course I’m aware of the benefits of replacing clunky, wear, failure and freezing prone shift linkages with wires up to the actual component.

            But the slavish, gratuitous, trend-following way it’s presently being carried out runs smack into the limitations of human sensory and attention processing in a potentially lethal environment.

          • 0 avatar
            Jack Denver

            It’s actually the opposite. Modern electronic transmissions no longer are shifted mechanically by engaging a physical lever on the side of the transmission that is connected by linkages to the big shift lever on the dash. They are “drive by wire”. So the PRNDL that you see now is really a type of joystick controller that is reverse engineered to emulate the form of a mechanical linkage. The “natural” interface for an electronic control with several discrete modes is usually either a selector knob with detents or a row of buttons.

      • 0 avatar
        shaker

        Airbags have been proven to save lives. These shifters are making room for cupholders and phone chargers.

  • avatar
    LS1Fan

    Starting 2006 Mercedes Benz : put key in ignition, turn, engage shifter to desired gear, drive. Change music using steering wheel controls.

    Starting 2016 Mercedes Benz: Ensure keyless remote is on the drivers person instead of a nearby table by the garage before entering vehicle .
    Put foot on brake and press “Engine Start” button.

    Press side button and move proprietary Mercedes column shifter until the “D” or “R” light is lit.

    Say small prayer to the computer gods that the display is showing the gear you’re actually in,and drive. Change music by first taking a Graduate course in software Development , then writing a dissertation on human computer interface design. Only then will one be prepared to interact with proprietary Mercedes Benz vehicle settings UI via the console dial.

    Progress?!?

    • 0 avatar
      Richard Chen

      Definitely a learning curve/muscle memory problem, we’re equipped for hunting & gathering but not this.

      Still waiting on the NTSB conclusions of the Vahalla NY MB-SUV train accident. Pics:
      https://www.flickr.com/photos/ntsb/sets/72157650647203205/

      • 0 avatar
        OldManPants

        “we’re equipped for hunting & gathering but not this”

        We’re also equipped to play violins and trombones but lose the linearity of hand movement/note produced and we won’t do so well.

        • 0 avatar
          Jack Denver

          Driving your car should be easier than playing a musical instrument which takes years of training. You could design an electronic violin or trombone that had a non-linear response and people with musical talent could still be (re)trained to play it – the problem is that cars are supposed to be driven by everyone (and sometimes you have to drive unfamiliar vehicles as soon as you step into them – rental cars, etc.) so it makes a lot of sense to have a simple and standardized interface that doesn’t require years of music lessons to master.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Denver

        Valahalla crash had nothing to do with interfaces. The woman stopped inside the crossing gates (already a horrible error), the crossing arm came down and wedged itself behind her car. She got out of the car to inspect, the guy behind her backed up and motioned for her to back up. Instead, she got back in the car and intentionally drove forward to try to unwedge it. The car went forward because she put it in drive.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valhalla_train_crash#Accident

        Maybe her lawyer or the lawyers for the other victims are trying to find a deep pocket that they can pick (Daimler) but there was nothing wrong with the shifter.

        • 0 avatar
          Richard Chen

          The driver owned the ML-class for <3 months prior to the crash. Some suspect that in a panic situation, she incorrectly put the shifter into Drive instead of Reverse.

          http://jalopnik.com/was-mercedes-gearshift-design-to-blame-in-in-fatal-trai-1689604456

          • 0 avatar
            Jack Denver

            It was not exactly a “panic” situation – the woman had time to literally get out of the car, inspect the situation and then get back in. Anyway there is zero proof that that is what happened. Usually, if you have selected the wrong gear, as soon as you start to apply the gas you sense that you’re starting to move in the wrong direction and step on the brake and reverse, you don’t keep going forward as she did.

            My guess is that she thought that she was hooked on the cross arm or blocked from reversing and was planning to drive clear across the tracks to the other side. People also think irrationally in such situations – instead of thinking “to hell with the cross arm and the car, I’m going to throw it in reverse and break whatever is going to break in order to save my ass”, they think “I’m going to scratch my brand new Mercedes and they are going to charge me for breaking the cross arm.”

            The Jalopnik guys says “Benz puts R up and D down, which is counter to how most people’s brains map up and down of a hand lever in a car. It seems that down would feel more like pulling to the rear, and an up pull would feel more like a motion forward, the opposite of the Mercedes layout.”

            I don’t think there is really a “natural” mapping between up/down and forward/back but it’s worth noting that in the old 3 on the tree column shifters, reverse was up and 1st gear was down.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Make the car bing-bong like a psycho if someone doesn’t set the parking brake.

  • avatar
    gasser

    Wasn’t the idea of standardization such that people could move from vehicle to vehicle without a lengthy re-orientation?? This way you could go from your car to your wife’s car to a rental car to a loner without taking the 600 page manual out of the glove box and spending an hour reading it.
    Now you can get off a six hour flight, totally exhausted, and get in your rental car without any Effen idea of how to change the gears and drive safely.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    I’ve no problem with push button or rotary knob gear selectors.

    what I do have a problem with is things like the ZF “monostable” selector, or BMW’s thing.

    Why? Because it *looks* like a traditional gear selector, but doesn’t *work* like one.

  • avatar
    HahnZahn

    I’m astounded the Prius shifter is still as horrid as it is. We have Prii in our work fleet, and it takes me several minutes to put the thing into motion. Between the lack of feedback from the gas engine and the confounding shifter, I’m never quite sure what’s gonna happen when I take my foot off the brake.

  • avatar

    “What you’re talking about is premarket approval. ”

    Sounds great for safety doesn’t it?

    Problem is that if cars have to get pre-market approval then the responsibility for making safe cars will transfer from the manufacturers to the government agency.

    How could you hold a manufacturer responsible legally or financially for an unsafe vehicle if the NHTSA had approved the vehicle as safe?

    If a manufacturer makes a mistake, it pays “stupid tax” in the form of recall costs and maybe a fine or three. This is fine, adding pre-approval process will potentially delay vehicle introduction and make vehicle safety influenced by government lobby groups. What could possibly be wrong with that picture?!?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Denver

      How could you hold a manufacturer responsible legally or financially for an unsafe vehicle if the NHTSA had approved the vehicle as safe?

      That’s right -that’s why it’s impossible to sue any drug manufacturer because all drugs are FDA approved. No, wait, it isn’t -there are drug suits all the time. Because the law says that government approval doesn’t take away the mfrs. liability, that’s how.

      There are already a ton of government mandated standards (such as PRNDL) which are a form of pre-approval – as long as your car conforms to the standard you don’t have to get a waiver. It would not be a big leap to say that not only do all cars have to be PRNDL but that you have to select PRNDL with a selector lever on the column or console.

      Are turn signal stalks on the left mandatory as opposed to controlling the signal some other way?

  • avatar
    Add Lightness

    Why do they use valuable space with a floor shifter for the clutch-challenged?
    Put the thing out of the way, in the line of vision, and bring back bench seats for genuine people movers. Having to touch a fellow passenger isn’t so terrible.

  • avatar
    iNeon

    Guns don’t kill people.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Idiot Trump announced he wants to eliminate 75% of regulations. Wonder if PRNDL will be among the executed.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Fortunately for our food, air, and water safety, the number of regulations Trump eliminates will be presented as an “alternative fact.” It’s too hard for his limited intellect and attention span to actually get through the APA process to eliminate that many of them.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I propose the first one regulation eliminated be the one that says that the police have to help evict deadbeat tenants and hotel guests.

      And I propose the second regulation eliminated be the one that says that the general public can’t go into the west wing of the White House.

      De-regulate, baby!

    • 0 avatar
      chuckrs

      Is there a regulation specifying PRNDL now? It must have escaped my notice.
      In the unlikely event such a reg exists, why would Trump eliminate something that works?
      Wonder if you couldn’t come up with a better example?
      I long for the good old days of the WJ Clinton presidency. Even at the end, in Y2K, there were 5000 fewer pages in the federal registry.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Yes, there is a regulation requiring the PRNDL order (or at least the RND part of it). It doesn’t address what’s in that order, so detents on a lever, buttons, a rotary knob, or positions on a nudge shifter like BMW’s are all fine as long as the order is RND.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Denver

      What if that 75% involved abortion or marijuana, would that make you happy? No one is actually against government regulations per se, they just want the government to regulate different things. Everyone wants the government to regulate the things that they don’t like and not to regulate the things that they do like. It’s just that different people like different things.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    People are slow if they can’t figure current shifters out. I haven’t had trouble with a single one. That includes rotary, the 300/Audi A8 boat throttle, Lincoln buttons, and Mercedes column shifters.

    The shift control is no longer mechanical. Why should we have to make a control pretend to be something it’s not?

    • 0 avatar
      OldManPants

      “Why should we have to make a control pretend to be something it’s not?”

      Because we’re still the same proprioception-dominant creatures we always were and we still have to mechanically move a selector to send the little electrons to the solenoid controllers doing the grunt work.

  • avatar
    jmp2006

    I still don’t understand how this is a problem? Complaining about a design is fine, everyone has an opinion. But, if this is such a huge deal, why are people still buying the vehicles with these features?

    Vote with your wallet. If you don’t like the features in a car, in this case the shifter design, don’t buy the damn thing. Buying it, after presumably test driving it, and then complaining about how it’s “all wrong” is just ridiculous.

    If you don’t like it, don’t buy it and tell the dealer/manufacturer why you didn’t buy it.

  • avatar
    3CatGo

    My wife and I are looking to replace our TDI. We test drove the Mercedes C300 and GLC. Amazing vehicles. The shifter is a deal-breaker for me. I want a tactile shifter in which I don’t need to avert my eyes to guarantee it’s in the gear I think it is, the MB shifter is horrible.

  • avatar

    If a manufacturer wants to make their gear shift highly complex and unintuitive. That’s their design decision.

    The shifter isn’t the issue causing a safety concern here, total red herring.

    The ability to get out of the car while still in gear or neutral is the safety issue.

    Back in the day, you couldn’t remove your key from the ignition until the car was in park. It focused the driver on the task of putting their car in park. Keyless entry and keyless ignitions have eliminated this safety feature and make it more likely that someone might mindlessly exit a car with car in gear and engine/motor running.

    How about you can’t open the door until the car is in park? (Override would be to press the unlock button say 3 times to unlock door).

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Thanks JP, you nailed it. People have not evolved as quickly as our cars and the auto designers are now taking away the built in anti-idiot protections we once had.

      Cases i regarding keyless push button autos.

      Parent drives to local public transit station. Gets out of the car, their new driver child gets into driver’s seat. Parent boards the waiting bus and travels on her way. Parent has the key in his/her pocket/case. The child drives off in the car. Now what? The child does not have the key and it will soon be many miles away.

      Open up car and clean it in driveway. Puts key, etc with cleaning materials. Gets into the car, pushes the button and starts it and drives off leaving the key behind at home. What happens?

      Push button, no key starts are not idiot proof. Requiring your key to start your car is, relatively.

      Final example, related to winter driving. How can you rock your car out of a snowbank with a rotary or push button gear selector?

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Every car I’ve ever driven that has a proximity key gives you ample warning if the key leaves the car. Our old 2005 Nissan Murano gave you loud interior and exterior chimes and lit a dedicated “no key detected” bulb on the instrument panel if someone walked off with the key while the car was still on. Newer cars, with their instrument panel LCDs, are a lot more verbose and will straight up tell you that the key is no longer in the car, in plain English, while chiming at you. I don’t know how much more idiot-proof you can get than that.

        Also, you should not be able to start the car without the key actually being inside the cabin. So if the fob is sitting outside the car in a bucket with cleaning materials, it shouldn’t start, anyway. You’ll at least have to have had the key IN the car for it to authorize an engine start.

        However, at least people seem to realize that the car won’t shut off after X miles if the key isn’t in it…which used to be a popular belief. No automaker wants that liability.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        “Parent drives to local public transit station. Gets out of the car, their new driver child gets into driver’s seat. Parent boards the waiting bus and travels on her way. Parent has the key in his/her pocket/case. The child drives off in the car. Now what?”

        If the car is in park, the car won’t shift out of park. If the car is already in gear and running, it will keep running until the next time it’s shifted into park.

        “Open up car and clean it in driveway. Puts key, etc with cleaning materials. Gets into the car, pushes the button and starts it and drives off leaving the key behind at home. What happens?”

        Same as above.

        It’s a minor issue, but no different from other issues with keys. In your first case above, with a key car, what happens when parent leaves their office key on the keychain with the car key? Same deal.

      • 0 avatar
        BigOldChryslers

        > Final example, related to winter driving. How can you rock your car out of a snowbank with a rotary or push button gear selector?

        1. How does the rotary or pushbutton shifter prevent you from doing this? Does the computer require you to press the brakes before it will allow a shift?

        2. My dad taught me as a young driver that the typical method of quickly shifting between reverse and drive while applying accelerator to rock your car free when stuck in snow is needlessly hard on the transmission, just like shifting from reverse to drive without letting the vehicle come to a complete stop first.

        The correct way is to go as far in one direction as possible. Then, just as the car comes to a stop, quickly apply the brakes to hold the car at the end of the rut you’ve created. Then take foot off the gas and shift into the opposite direction while the car is stopped. Then apply gas again and let your foot off the brakes. Once the car stops moving in the opposite direction, apply the brakes again and repeat. This method to get un-stuck will work with any form of shifter, including manual transmission.

    • 0 avatar
      NetGenHoon

      I’ll agree with you on this.

      My previous 2 cars both had push button starts that I could stop park, hit stop, put on the parking brake and be fine. One was a 2013 Focus ST, manual, so no park. The other is a Nissan Leaf, it has a weird puck shifter, but it automatically goes in park when the car is shut off.

      My 2016 Jeep Cherokee, standard lever shifter, push button ignition, is different. It won’t turn off with the car in gear. Sounds good. As long as the car is on, I know I’m not in park. However, it has auto stop-start, so when I stop with my foot on the brake, the engine stops. So I park, hit Stop and go to exit, the car is still in gear.

      I have to be extra careful. In this car, the parking brake is automatic, so I don’t have the usual failsafe. Extra care is okay for me a car guy, but I worry for the distracted masses.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Denver

      How about, opening the door PUTS the car in park if the car is not moving? Also if you have an electric parking brake, I don’t see any reason why it should not be tied to Park on the transmission. Is there any circumstance where you would want one and not the other (and you could always create an override for any fringe case)?

      Put the car in park automatically when the door is opened certainly helps, but that’s not the only possible problem from a non-intuitive/non-standard shifter. Sending the car in an unintended direction (e.g. forward when you mean to go back) is another problem.

  • avatar
    BaBlogger77

    I will take a mechanical, gated, center console mounted shifter anytime over ones that are push button, rotary dial or electronic switches on steering columns masquerading as old fashioned mechanical ones.

    In my opinion, automakers should try to agree on certain standard functions for this design across the board. Few people probably sit down to read a few hundred page owner’s manual anymore (if ever they did) to locate how the shifter functions in Chapter 29, Page 553. I can see a day when automakers will try some new, innovative designs of the steering wheel for the sake of standing out from the crowd, such as perhaps replacing it with a joystick, maybe switching the directions of the wheel so that turning left actually moves the car towards the right and vice versa, or adopting the “magic wand” approaching as seen in some BMW’s now of flailing one’s arms in the direction in which you want the vehicle to go. I am being a bit sarcastic here.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      It seems to me that most console gear selectors are no longer mechanical. Like throttles, they are ‘drive by wire’…merely switches that tell the car’s computers which position a lever is in, and it electronically operates the transmission. However, most still have traditional interfaces and mostly look and feel like older, mechanical shifters (like the one in my Golf SportWagen), eliminating confusion.

      And indeed, even steering-column shifters are no longer exclusively mechanical. Starting with the 2002 7-Series and 2003 Phantom for BMW Group…and the 2006 M-Class and 2007 S-Class for Mercedes-Benz…column shifters can be electronic and monstatic as well. And there’s Tesla, who borrows Mercedes-Benz’ gear selector and steering column. I think the column-shifters in trucks and large SUVs (GM K2XX platform, trucks with bench seats) are still mechanical though.

      Now, for real old-school, request a three-on-the-tree manual column shifter. We had a ’73 Chevy C10 with such an arrangement. Only my father and my maternal grandmother could drive it.

      • 0 avatar
        Add Lightness

        The third pedal is an anti-theft device.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          Sadly, a manual transmission really is a theft deterrent. I’m not terribly concerned about someone stealing my car, though. I live in a safe neighborhood where it stays garaged during the night, and I don’t leave irreplaceable valuables in it. And if someone really wants it, that’s what insurance is for. It’s just a car.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        I’ve only done it a few times 20 years ago, but IIRC reverse is towards and left, 1st is towards and right, 2nd is away and left, and 3rd is away and right.

    • 0 avatar
      shaker

      “…flailing one’s arms in the direction in which you want the vehicle to go.”

      No – that’s what people will do when their self-driving vehicle takes the cliff rather then cleaving an impromptu Tour-de-France in their lane.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        That’s an interesting scenario. I would assume—hope—that my future autonomous car would preserve saving me and my car’s occupants over saving other people (and in fact, that seems like the most reasonable outcome, to each his own), but you never know.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      My 2016 C-Max has a traditional lever shifter, but it’s clearly not mechanical; it’s just a really big electronic switch. I’m just fine with that. In fact, I’d prefer something more electronic switch-like and less clunky.

      My 2008 LS460 has a mechanical lever shifter. I don’t see what it being mechanical adds to the car, if anything.

      • 0 avatar
        shaker

        “…but it’s clearly not mechanical; it’s just a really big electronic switch…”

        Do you mean that it doesn’t engage a mechanical parking pawl in the transmission? (as it does in my 2015 Volt)

        I like the shifter in the Volt: PRNDL, with the traditional release button. The Volt is a car that anyone (as long as you don’t get freaked out by all of the info displays) can get in and drive with minimal adjustment. (Edit: It does have an electric parking brake instead of the traditional lever, but I only use it on inclines).

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          I have to correct myself after doing a little research. There is a park pawl and the shifter engages it mechanically when shifted into Park. It doesn’t have any other mechanical connections.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Other than the fact that it lacked a failsafe, I don’t think this was a bad design. However, I am an outlier, because most people would disagree.

    If there’s going to be pre-approval for interfaces, then there needs to be a set standard, and then a standard set of guidelines for any deviation from it.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    This is a perfect example of when some regulation is helpful.

    An earlier example: those short-lived automatic shoulder belts, which were failure-prone, and did not encourage use of the lap belt.

    My FIL rolled a car while only secured with the automatic shoulder belt, and cracked his neck vertebrae on the roof because he hadn’t secured the lap belt. His fault, yes, but the design lulled him into a false sense of security. At least he recovered.

  • avatar
    s_a_p

    I have a 2015 JGC SRT. It has the shifter in the picture. I will admit that I wasn’t thrilled with the shifter going in. However it took my all of 1 day to get used to it. I cross shopped a BMW X5 with this thing, and I dont think that the Jeeps shifter is any worse than the X5. I have had 1 safety recall service for it, but there is another one. At this point, however, I fear that it will make matters worse or become too intrusive. I am good with its behavior right now so Im not dying to have them change anything.

    • 0 avatar
      White Shadow

      What’s the second recall for? I decided not to bring mine in for the first one because I don’t have an issue with the way it works now.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Denver

      Although BMW and Chrysler both sourced the monostable (what does that even mean?) shifter from ZF, the implementation was left up to the auto mfr. IIRC, BMW’s version puts the car in park when the door is opened so it’s not quite the same.

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        “So, then, ‘mono’ means one, and ‘stable’ means stable…and that concludes our intensive three-week course.”

        To answer the question, though, a brief perusal of Wikipedia suggests that a “monostable” shifter would send a single pulse of electricity to the solenoid when pushed forward or back, then remain inactive until pushed again.

        • 0 avatar
          BigOldChryslers

          The monostable shifter has one stable state, which is the centered position. A conventional shifter has multiple stable states, which would be each of the gear selection positions.

    • 0 avatar
      BigOldChryslers

      > I am good with its behavior right now so Im not dying to have them change anything.

      Was that pun intentional?

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Automakers are killing the manual because buyers don’t want them (e.g. the dealers that buy inventory). So automakers answer to this problem is developing automatic gear shifters more complicated than a manual transmission.

    Makes PERFECT sense to me.

  • avatar
    jammyjo

    Why isn’t the ignition tied in with the transmission selector?

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Humans are tactile creatures, start taking the ‘feel’ out of everything, start having problems.

  • avatar
    WallMeerkat

    I don’t mind a rotary dial autobox, though I do miss having a big lever that you could pretend you were a pilot, on an automatic it is rarely used during a journey, unlike a manual box.

    However these things change, if they didn’t we would likely still be using column shifters.

    One thing I was glad did change though was the floor mounted handbrake/parking brake/Ebrake on some automatics from the 70s to 90s.

    Why someone thought it was a good idea to put a parking brake where the clutch is on a manual car was a good idea I’ll never know.

  • avatar
    RobbieAZ

    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.

  • avatar
    RedRocket

    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.

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