Functional Safety Challenges for Automotive Systems

Bill McCaffrey

June 28, 2016

The tragic news of Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin, crushed to death when his Jeep Grand Cherokee rolled backward down his driveway, has prompted Fiat Chrysler to speed up its recall plans to modify electronic gearshifts on more than 1.1 million Jeep and Dodge vehicles. The recall has been linked to hundreds of reported accidents and injuries.

In 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation, after some Jeep Grand Cherokee owners alleged their vehicles would roll away after being shifted into Park. Initially, the NHTSA treated the issue as a mechanical defect. Since then, the NHTSA has determined that the issues are the result of driver error due to a poorly designed system.

As with nearly all gearshifts in vehicles these days, the Jeep’s shift lever controls the transmission electronically through software. However, unlike other vehicles, Fiat Chrysler’s “Monostable” shifter functions more like a joystick rather than a traditional gear shifter. The Jeep’s shifter does not move to a different position with each gear. Instead, the lever returns to the center position each time.

In its report, the NHTSA stated the following:

... The Monostable shifter is not intuitive and provides poor tactile and visual feedback to the driver, increasing the potential for unintended gear selection.

ODI’s analysis... identified 306 incidents of vehicle rollaway following intended shifts to Park in the 2014-2015 Grand Cherokee. These resulted in 117 alleged crashes. Twenty-eight of the crashes reportedly caused injuries, including 3 with a fractured pelvis and 4 others requiring some degree of hospitalization (a ruptured bladder, fractured kneecap, broken ribs, damaged to right leg). Other injuries include reports of a broken nose, facial lacerations requiring stitches, sprained knees, severe bruising, and trauma to legs.



Last week, Fiat Chrysler sent its dealers new software allowing them to install upgrades. The upgraded software includes a new "Auto Park" feature intended to prevent the vehicles from moving when the driver’s side door is open and the shifter is not in park.

As we have mentioned before, it’s clear that as automakers add more and more technology to their vehicles, the potential for software-related problems increase. If not addressed, manufacturers risk consumer trust, brand erosion, or worse. Vector Software understands the challenges manufacturers are facing with developing safety-critical software for automotive systems is are well-poised to address them. Our solutions help engineers and developers efficiently validate these complex systems. Our tools support the creation and management of test cases and artifacts necessary to prove that functional safety software requirements have been tested.

To learn more on how Vector Software’s VectorCAST test automation platform can help you, contact us today.