‘They’re entirely preventable’: Local advocates push for change to reduce rollaway car deaths

Since the arrival of keyless ignitions, safety advocates have been sounding the alarm about a dangerous trend: Drivers not noticing their car is not in park until the vehicle is rolling away.

According to the National Highway Safety Administration, on average 150 people die each year from those rollaway crashes and 2,000 people are hurt.

Videos like these capture the heartbreaking incidents:

Both cases resulted in settlements with automakers involved.

Rollaway crashes are often traumatic for loved ones of victims left behind as well. Duxbury resident Sene Bostrom lost her mother in a rollaway crash in 2017.

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“I could talk about her all day,” Bostrom told Boston 25 News.

Bostrom says her mom, Gabrielle Thorpe, had pulled over on a small Connecticut side street driving home from the store. She says she believes her mom got out of her car to check something, and the car started to roll.

“She apparently chased the car, hit a parked car, and it crushed her in the doorway,” Bostrom said.

“And she had failed to put the car in park, right?” asked anchor Vanessa Welch.

“Yes,” replied Bostrom.

“All the tactile visual things we used to be relying on as humans, a lot has been removed. And instead, we’re being overloaded with information, not just in the car, but from outside of the car, from our phones, from our families, from all of the distractions of modern life,” said Sean Kane with Safety Research & Strategies in Seekonk.

Kane has been advocating since 2010 to have technology in cars to prevent these kinds of rollaways.

“These are horrific events, and what’s particularly tragic about it is, in today’s modern cars, they’re entirely preventable. And they don’t cost any money,” Kane said.

Kane tells Boston 25 News that, in 2011, the federal government proposed honking horns and flashing lights to warn drivers when they stopped the car and forgot to put it in park. But Kane says automakers were concerned that would annoy customers.

Certain car makers do have an extra layer of protection.

“It literally is lines of code…to activate these features to prevent the deaths and injuries that are occurring,” Kane explained.

The recently signed infrastructure bill included the “Park It Act”, which requires NHTSA to review rollaway and rollaway prevention measures and report back to Congress within a year. Kane says it’s the first step to saving lives, like Gabrielle Thorpe’s.

In the meantime, he shared tips for drivers to prevent rollaway crashes:

  • If your car is rolling don’t try to stop it
  • Don’t try to get back in
  • Get away from the car
  • Don’t ignore warning signs: if your door is still locked when you think it shouldn’t be or the trunk won’t open, your car may still be in park.

Sene Bostrom said she has her own reminder: “I always say ‘mom, park park’… You know, stop, put your car in park, you can go ‘park park’, whatever your message is to yourself. And just be extra careful.”

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