Washington — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it is upgrading and expanding its investigation into roughly 856,000 Grand Cherokees, Dodge Chargers and Chrysler 300s because the electronic gear shifter is so confusing that some drivers exit with the engine running and the vehicles still in gear.

NHTSA said it has upgraded its investigation into 2014-15 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2012-14 Charger and Chrysler 300s with 3.6-liter engines to an engineering analysis.

The safety agency has identified 306 incidents of Grand Cherokees rolling away after the drivers intended to shift the vehicle into park. That has result in 117 alleged crashes, 28 of which reportedly involved injuries — including three fractured pelvises.

In addition, NHTSA said it had received eight complaints about 2012-14 Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger vehicles equipped with 3.6-liter engines that use the same shifter. Those complaints involved four crashes and two injuries.

Fiat Chrysler says it is cooperating fully with the investigation.

The vehicles use a ZF Group Monostable electronic gear shift assembly that springs back into a neutral position after drivers select a gear and release the shifter. NHTSA’s testing found that the electronic gear shifter is “not intuitive” and offers “poor tactile and visual feedback to the driver, increasing the potential for unintended gear selection.”

If a driver opens his or her door when the gearshift isn’t in park, a chime rings and a message pops up to alert them that the transmission is not in park.

The engine also will not turn off normally without the transmission in park. However, this function does not protect drivers who intentionally leave the engine running or those who do not realize that the engine is still running after they tried to turn it off, NHTSA says.

Fiat Chrysler changed the shifter design for the Charger and 300 in model-year 2015, and for the Grand Cherokee in model-year 2016.

mburke@detroitnews.com

(202) 662-8736

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