Since the death of Anton Yelchin, car companies have been worried about unintentional rollaway accidents. Modern electronic shifters can be confusing and, if you're not sure what gear you're in, it's possible that your car could roll away and crush yourself or someone else, as happened to Yelchin. So most modern, digital shifters include some sort of rollaway protection system that shifts the car into park when you turn off the vehicle or open the door. We just didn't know it was possible on a column shifter.
Typically, these systems are fitted to cars with electronic or push-button shifters. Since the shifter is usually just an array of buttons or a stalk that returns to a default position after any selection, automatically shifting into park isn't much of a challenge. The vehicle sends a command to the transmission and then changes the indicator light to "P" rather than "D" on the console shifter. But older shifter designs like the standard PRNDL line-type configuration or column shifter don't make things so simple. Those shifters often have physical connections and, even if they don't, have big levers that indicate gear position. A vehicle in park with its shifter still firmly indicating "D" isn't exactly reassuring.
Today, we found out how Ford solved this issue. Though many variants of the F-150 use a rotary shifter, those with a three-seat front bench still use an old column shifter. So while the Raptor and other F-150s get away with a more conventional anti-rollaway shifter, Ford got a bit clever for the column-shift models. The company fitted them with an electronic actuator that, when the vehicle is turned off, physically moves the shift lever back into park. Thanks to Craig LeMoyne on Twitter, you can watch how it works. It's mesmerizing.
While complicated, it's also a feature I could imagine most column-shift truck owners appreciating. I've more than once turned off my Tahoe only to realize I was still in reverse and, because my gear indicator display is dead, I had to catch the issue myself. That also exposes the risk of systems like this. After all, if you have a sophisticated electronic system to catch your mistakes, you're not quite as likely to be careful. If you get a little too dependent on it, then you have to worry about the next time you drive a car without such a system. So while we're happy it exists, it's important to keep in mind that putting the vehicle in park before shutting it off is still something you should feel responsible for.
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