Imagine for a moment that your vehicle has accidentally just stopped on a set of railroad tracks. There is a train quickly approaching. You need to move your car now. If you were under duress, would you know which way to move your shifter in order to get off the tracks safely?
If you're like a lot of Americans, you probably answered yes. But what if you were sitting in a vehicle you weren't exactly familiar with? Would this change your answer? With a lot of newer cars, shifters aren't always in the expected location. In others, the design is far different than what you're probably used to, meaning you wouldn't be able to rely on muscle memory while under duress.
It's this concern that is being raised by Consumer Reports, which recently pointed out that even some of the most basic controls in vehicles might be "unnecessarily confusing and potentially dangerous," stated an article for ABC News. By veering from traditional design, it's believed by some that automakers are creating dangerous situations for drivers who may make shifting errors or other operating mistakes because of their unfamiliarity with the vehicle and its controls.
Even though there are federal safety standards in place that require automakers to conform to specific standards when it comes to transmission shift levers, some contend that there are some newer vehicle models that do not seem to follow this standard. For example, one BMW model features a shifter level where pushing the mechanism forward actually puts the car into reverse. For a lot of people across California, this may seem counter intuitive, which is why some consider these new designs to be so dangerous.
This begs the question we raise in this post's title: are controls in newer vehicles meeting federal safety standards? Though their placement may meet standards, some might argue that their design might not be considering the fact that they could increase the risk of crashes due to driver error. If this is the case, then automakers that veer from standard design might be held liable in the event of a crash and may need to pay compensation to crash victims as a result.