Keeping Your Family Safe From Vehicle Rollaways

Families across the country are raising safety questions involving deadly vehicle rollaway accidents that kill nearly 150 people every year.

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Before buying a car, important questions to ask a dealership

When you’re buying a car there are so many things to consider. A vehicle loaded with safety features usually tops the list, and it’s why Dr. Ken Rothfield says he bought his 2017 Chevy Volt. “I thought it was super safe and I knew it would protect me in a crash or when I was changing lanes.” 

Rothfield is a former anesthesiologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center and is now Chief Medical Officer and head of patient safety at a hospital in Texas. “A large part of my career now is around keeping patients and our employees safe in a hospital setting. And we think very differently about safety than I think the auto industry does, because we know that people always make mistakes.”

Rothfield openly admits he made a mistake in February of this year. He says he was backing out of the driveway when he noticed his wife’s car was in the way. He says he hopped out to move her car when his Chevy Volt suddenly began rolling backwards, pinning him against a brick wall. 

As a result, Rothfield suffered severe injuries, including a dislocated elbow, broken ribs and a laceration on his leg that required 30 stitches and 2 surgeries. He says he's still recovering. "I really did beat myself up for a few days for being so stupid to put my car in neutral instead of park. But I learned that this is actually a very common problem,” said Rothfield.

News4 obtained exclusive video from surveillance cameras nationwide capturing victims getting run over by their own cars. We found incidents in California, New Mexico, Texas, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Miami. Their families are left to struggle with unfathomable loss. 

Rollaway Prevention Technology

Some car manufacturers have installed rollaway prevention technology if a driver leaves the vehicle without putting it in park. Rothfield’s 2017 Chevy Volt did not include this technology. 

In a statement to News4, a General Motors spokesperson said:

“At General Motors, safety and security are top priorities. The 2017 Chevrolet Volt uses a mechanical shifter similar to shifters used in many other vehicles until recently when electronic shifters were introduced. Some new GM vehicles are equipped with electronic shifters, which are designed to automatically put the vehicle in Park when the driver’s door is opened and the vehicle is not already in Park, reducing the potential for unintended vehicle motion under these circumstances. Unlike electronic shifters, mechanical shifters are not able to automatically place the vehicle in Park. We encourage all of our customers to always put the vehicle into Park position before exiting the vehicle."

In a follow up email to NEWS4, Rothfield countered his accident could have been prevented if his vehicle had the software to apply the electronic parking brake.

“If a vehicle has an electronic parking brake, then it has all the hardware needed to prevent a tragedy,” wrote Rothfield.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it tracks rollaway incidents and estimates that there are roughly 142 deaths and 2000 injuries each year.

Which is why several safety advocacy groups, including Consumer Reports, are pushing for every car to make anti-rollaway technology standard on all vehicles. “We have the technology that exists and we know it’s effective to automatically stop your car if it’s unintentionally in gear and right now that’s not on every car and it should be,” said William Wallace, Manager of Safety Policy at Consumer Reports, a publication known for its annual car ratings.

In 2017 Consumer Reports started lowering scores for cars that weren’t equipped with  rollaway prevention or if they had non-traditional gear  shifters that some experts say could be confusing to drivers. 

“Over the last decade Consumer Reports has noticed that gear  shifters are simply weird now and gear  shifters started to come in different designs that people wouldn’t necessarily understand and might confuse that raised concerns for us and would lead people in dangerous situations,” said Wallace. 

That’s why safety experts say get into the habit of using your parking brake if your car has a non-traditional gear shift.

Buying a Car? Do this first

Do your homework.

Make sure the car has the safety features you’re looking for, including rollaway prevention.  

Check the owner’s manual if the salesperson is unsure whether the vehicle is equipped with the technology

Ask the salesperson to explain how the gear shift works if it’s not what you’re used to

"It’s very hard for consumers to know whether this is even on the vehicle, sometimes dealers don’t know and that's why at the end of the day we want this required on every single car so people don’t even have to think about it,” said Wallace.

Consumer Reports along with other safety organizations are hoping recently introduced legislation called the PARK IT Act 2021 will get passed. This would require that all cars have some type of technology to prevent  rollaways.

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