Ford’s Return to Park Feature Addresses Dangerous Vehicle Rollaways

Any new Ford you buy today likely has automatic emergency braking and forward-collision warning. Ford’s modern cars also use Co-Pilot 360, including standard lane-keeping assist and blind-spot monitoring. Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) can’t prevent all car accidents, but they improve safety. A few years ago, Ford also designed Return to Park, a car safety feature to prevent vehicle rollaway accidents.

Awareness about vehicle rollaway accidents has increased

When a vehicle starts moving without any input from the driver, it can cause a rollaway accident. These accidents can still happen if you’re in control of the vehicle, especially if your transmission is worn. Excess deterioration might cause the car to slip into reverse shortly after you’ve shifted it to the parking gear.

Rollaway accidents injure 2,000 people a year and cause around 142 fatalities, according to reported data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Fortunately, many modern vehicles come with brake transmission safety interlocks (BTSI) to prevent such accidents. If your foot isn’t on the brake pedal, the BTSI will lock the parking gear and prevent the vehicle from moving.

How does Ford’s Return to Park feature work?

Ford Return to Park, vehicle rollways, rollaway accidents, 2017 Ford Fusion Return to Park
Ford’s Return to Park feature in a 2017 Ford Fusion | Ford Motor Company

In late 2016, Ford announced its Return to Park would be standard on the 2017 Ford Fusion. The now-discontinued car has this feature on a rotary dial near the shifter, connected to a set of modules monitoring the transmission. If the system detects that you plan to exit the vehicle, it automatically shifts the transmission into parking mode.

Such instances include opening the door without your seatbelt locked or turning off the car’s engine. If the engine shuts off unexpectedly while driving, Return to Park also helps stop the vehicle. 

The vehicle automatically shifts into neutral until it reaches 5 mph, after which the system puts the car in park. Return to Park can also prevent other transmission mishaps, such as accidentally engaging the reverse gear at higher speeds.

If your Toyota is from the 2020 model year or later, it probably has a similar feature. The automatic parking function engages the parking brake or shifts the transmission into park if you exit the vehicle.

Certain General Motors vehicles also have this feature, but you should never leave anything up to chance. Like a BTSI, the sensors in these safety mechanisms have the potential to malfunction.

Using your vehicle’s parking brake is the best way to avoid rollaway accidents, especially if you’re parking on an incline. According to Nationwide, you should always stop the car with its brakes before activating the parking brake. That way, you won’t put any strain on your transmission, which will help it last longer.

Once the parking brake is set, shift the transmission into park and turn off the engine. Don’t forget to release the parking brake before you’re ready to switch back into drive.

Vehicle rollaway concerns have prompted recalls

Though vehicle rollaway accidents cause far fewer fatalities than collisions, automakers still take these incidents seriously. Recently, a malfunctioning antilock braking system (ABS) prompted a recall of nearly 271,000 Dodge Durango and Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs

A tell-tale sign of faulty ABS is an illuminated brake light on your dashboard. Even after you’ve eased your foot off the pedal, the light stays on. You should also be concerned if the vehicle rolls after it’s shifted into park.

The affected Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango SUVs are from the 2018 or 2019 model year. You can have any affected vehicles serviced for free, so take them to your local authorized Dodge dealership ASAP. Vehicle rollaway accidents are only preventable when your parking brake and certain safety features (such as ABS and BTSI) work.

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