Angela Chao’s Death Highlights Tesla’s Issues with Reverse Gears

Source: Flickr

In an unfortunate incident last month, shipping magnate Angela Chao drowned when she mistakenly backed her Tesla into a pond. The company’s vehicles have dealt with a lot of flak for malfunctions and design flaws which caused the cars to accidentally get put in reverse instead of drive. Let’s see what this death might spell for Tesla.

A Three-Point Turn Gone Awry

Chao was at a party outside a ranch in Austin last month when she attempted a three-point turn to leave. This turn involves repeatedly switching between forward and reverse gears.

Source: Flickr

Unfortunately, because of how it’s designed, Chao mistakenly put the car into reverse instead of drive and backed her Model X SUV into a pond, quickly sinking before she could be rescued.

Not The First Time This Happened

Investigators claim that this isn’t the first time Chao accidentally put her car into reverse. She admitted to a friend that she often mistakenly put the car into reverse instead of drive.

Source: Flickr/ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine

Yet Chao was not the only Tesla owner to experience this problem. Several other owners have stated that they regularly have a similar problem due to Tesla’s interior design.

Tesla’s Gearshift Design Confusing

The US Department of Transportation contains a list of automobile complaints; twelve of them have been filed against the Tesla reverse function, claiming it is faulty.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Seven of those complaints came from people who stated the gearshift design on the Tesla was confusing. The other five were complaints that the car switched into drive or reverse without them putting it there.

Regular Users Also Have a Hard Time

On Tesla’s user forums, several owners have stated that they have also had difficulty shifting between drive and reverse while owning the car. The design is not intuitive at all.

Source: Flickr/Wonderlane

Overall, the shifting issues isn’t that huge a deal. Aside from accidents like Chao, there hasn’t been much to highlight that particular issue. There are a lot more issues regarding Teslas.

Thousands of Complaints About Tesla

The database of complaints only recorded twelve about the reverse gear issue, but overall, there were more than four thousand complaints about Tesla’s cars.

Source: Urs Moser

One of the most prevalent reports of car malfunctions is the so-called “phantom braking” effect, which happens when the car’s Autopilot applies the brakes for imaginary hazards.

Restricting the Flow of Traffic

While phantom braking isn’t a huge issue if it happens out on an open country road, it becomes more of a problem if the car stops abruptly on a busy freeway or city road.

Source: Flickr/ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine

There has already been one recorded case of a death happening because of phantom braking. Overall, 95 deaths in Teslas have involved fires of Autopilot. Regulators opened an investigation in 2022.

Two Different Gearshifts

Tesla’s design philosophy is the same across its vehicles, but depending on the model and year of the vehicle, you might use one of two gearshifts.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Does that mean one of them is more intuitive, easier to use, or less susceptible to this error than the other? No. In fact, the complaints have spread across both gearshift types, suggesting a design problem.

Autopilot’s Auto-Brake Creates Bad Habits

One of the features of Tesla’s cars that has made them extremely popular is the Autopilot function. Sometimes, the Autopilot will drive the car automatically, with the driver supervising.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Most people don’t trust the Autopilot that much and only use it for the automated braking that it does. Sadly, this means that most people don’t keep a foot on the brake pedal like others do.

Mistakes Can Easily Be Made

One report of a driver who regularly used Autopilot for his braking said that he almost backed into another car behind him at a traffic light when he flicked the gearshift to move forward.

Source: daytoncaraccident.attorneys

The car switched into reverse by mistake, and since he didn’t have a foot on the brake, he almost backed into the car right behind him. Teslas can be more dangerous than initially thought.

Safety Engineers Should Incorporate This Feedback

The driver noted that he was solely responsible for the situation. Still, he also stated that it highlights an issue many people face thanks to the change in behavior from using the car.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Safety engineers at Tesla can use this as an example of potential fixes to make cars safer or to edit Autopilot so it doesn’t lead to crashes like the one described by this driver.

New Touchscreen Gearshift Also Causing Problems

Model S and Model X cars made after 2021 shipped with a touchscreen gearshift. Users would have to side the icon up or down to change the direction of motion.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Several current users state that the change isn’t any better than the physical gearshift and is unintuitive for some drivers. One report noted a minor incident where the car failed to shift to drive after using the touchscreen console.

Recalls For Other Issues

In 2021, Tesla recalled nearly half a million cars because of a potential safety issue that may have affected them. The company says it was because of concerns for user safety.

Source: Medium

However, they have yet to recall or repair any of the vehicles that have demonstrated issues with their gear shifts. How dangerous does a problem have to be to institute a recall?

Self-Driving Features Have Known Problems

The company has stated before that it knows its self-driving features have issues. The newest releases note that a driver must remain present when the Autopilot is engaged.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

While most drivers aren’t comfortable trusting their lives to Autopilot yet, others complain that it does the exact opposite of what a self-driving feature is supposed to do.

Will This Force Tesla to Address The Problem?

Tesla has a lot on its place. With its recent release of the Cybertruck (which has its own issues) the company is trying to do a lot with a limited amount of staff. It’s not clear what priority the gearshift issue has within the company.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Until they get a more intuitive and easier-to-use system installed, Tesla users may just have to double-check their gear before they hit the accelerator.

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Sally Reed

Written by Sally Reed

Sally, a dynamic and viral writer, has taken the literary world by storm with her exceptional storytelling prowess. With an uncanny ability to tap into the collective consciousness of her readers, she crafts narratives that resonate deeply and linger long after the last word is read.

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