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Probe opened on Chrysler cars that roll away after being put in park

Published:Sunday | December 25, 2016 | 12:00 AM

United States auto-safety regulators have launched a probe into a potential Fiat Chrysler defect after receiving reports of rollaway vehicles bearing a strong resemblance to the flaw that allegedly killed actor Anton Yelchin in June.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTA) is now investigating the automaker's 2013-16 Ram 1500 pickup truck and 2014-16 Dodge Durango sport-utility vehicle over transmissions that are shifted electronically using a rotary control on the centre console.

The investigation centres on reports of nine injuries and 25 crashes in which the vehicles allegedly rolled away after drivers thought they had shifted into park.

NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation launched the probe after 43 vehicle owners complained about rollaways. The investigation came to light last Tuesday in a document posted to the NHTSA's website.

Fiat Chrysler is "cooperating fully with NHTSA's investigation, the scope of which is limited," spokesman Eric Mayne said in an email.

He said that it remains "prudent practice" for "all drivers to use their vehicles' parking brakes", which is also the NHTSA's recommendation.

The NHTSA noted that none of the people who complained about their vehicles rolling away had activated the parking brake.

Fiat Chrysler recalled 1.1 million vehicles in April to force vehicles into park when the driver opens the door. That recall included Yelchin's 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee, as well as the 2014 Grand Cherokee and the 2012-14 Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 sedans.

Yelchin was found dead, pinned between the back of his car and his front gate as he left his home in Studio City, California, for a rehearsal, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. The county medical examiner concluded his death was accidental and that he died of "blunt traumatic asphyxia".

Multiple automakers have begun incorporating electronic rotary shifters into their vehicles in recent years, but some motorists are confused by how to operate the new technology.

In a similar matter revealed separately last Tuesday, the NHTSA launched an investigation into 39,000 models manufactured by Jaguar Land Rover after seven drivers complained that their vehicles rolled away "after the driver switched the transmission gear selector to park with the engine running and after the operator exited the vehicle", according to an NHTSA document.

The probe covers the 2012-14 Land Rover Evoque and 2012-14 Jaguar XF.

Vehicle owners reported four injuries, including one in which the person was allegedly pinned against a garage wall. Like in the Fiat Chrysler vehicles, the Jaguar Land Rover models had electronic rotary-gear shifters and the drivers had not engaged the parking brake.