Growing Calls From Families to Address Vehicle Rollaway Risk – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort WorthAugust 1, 2021
In a joint project with NBC stations across the country, NBC 5 Responds is hearing from families raising safety questions involving rollaway accidents that kill nearly 150 people every year and injure an estimated 2,000 more.
Safety advocates say rollaway accidents are preventable, but safeguards aren’t mandated.
The doctor becomes the patient
On an otherwise ordinary Thursday morning in February, Dr. Ken Rothfield was backing down the driveway of his Flower Mound home when he noticed his wife’s car was parked in his path.
The physician was on his way to work and said he hopped out of his car – intending to head into the house to grab his wife’s keys so he could move her vehicle.
“I thought I put it into park, but I only got it into neutral,” said Rothfield.
Within moments of his mistake, Rothfield’s car rolled down his driveway and pinned him to a brick wall.
“The car was crushing me between a wall,” said Rothfield. “My arm had already disappeared, and I thought my head was next.”
Rothfield suffered severe injuries, including broken ribs and an injury to his leg that required two surgeries. He wore a wound vacuum for three months before it came off in early July.
“After this happened, I spent a couple of days beating myself up for not putting my car in park,” said Rothfield. “The reality is: not only do I always put my car in park, I always use the parking brake, which most people don’t except for this one time when I was in a hurry and I was out of my routine.”
Rothfield questioned if his accident had to happen.
“Modern cars know everything that you do,” said Rothfield. “On the morning of my accident, my car knew that I was not in park, it knew that I removed my seatbelt and opened my door and it could have just as easily activated the parking brake.”
“Instead, I received an alert that said, ‘door open’ which was something that I already knew because I was getting out of the car,” Rothfield added.
Rothfield drove a 2017 Chevy Volt at the time of his accident.
We asked General Motors about Rothfield’s experience. In an email to NBC 5 Responds, GM wrote, in part, “The 2017 Chevrolet Volt uses a mechanical shifter similar to shifters used in many other vehicles until recently when electronic shifters were introduced.”
GM added, “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.”
“In a follow up email to NBC 5 Responds, 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…