Runaway Vehicle Fatalities Such as the Death of Actor Anton Yelchin are Frequently and Easily Avoidable

A law suit was settled last week in death of Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin, who was crushed when his own SUV rolled on a slope and pinned him against the mailbox he was checking.

Sadly, however, deaths like this where a vehicle rolls away despite having ostensibly been left in ‘Park’ are all too common and actually have a  lot to do with the endemic incompetence of the majority of people who write state drivers manuals throughout the USA and yet have little-to-zero expertise in the subject of best-practise safe driving.

Photograph of Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin
Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin at The Voice Awards, 2011. (Photograph: Wikimedia Commons)

A very basic rule in safe driving, around the world, is that the parking brake — and no it is NOT an “emergency brake,” see below — should be applied every time a driver gets out of the driver’s seat…. period! This is because using only a suitable gear (in a stick shift) or the ‘P’ position in an automatic can be unsafe due to slippage, or in the latter, a failure (breakage) of the ‘P’ mechanism.

This requirement is actually the law in many if not all other developed countries around the world but astonishingly in the USA it is even omitted from those most basic of publications — state drivers manuals — and is therefore not taught to students and is not done by virtually any American drivers.

The result is utterly pointless deaths every year, all too often of children killed by their own parents’ “parked” car on their own family driveway!
Please don’t be unthinking about this extremely important little task. Neglecting it can be devastating.

Oh, and please…. no excuses that you don’t do it in case your brakes freeze on.  (Sadly, our ADoNA instructors have been told this by supposedly experienced drivers on hundreds of occasions and I kid you nor when I add that we have even heard this in both Miami and San Diego.)

Back in the days of drum brakes, decades ago, they did occasionally freeze on (because drum brakes could retain moisture and that’s what froze) but even though we  lived through many bad winters in Buffalo, NY, for twelve years, and all of our family always use their parking brake, even on level driveways, whatever the weather,  we never had one freeze on and never heard of anyone else have that problem, either.  Times have changed!

Tragically, there is no pattern to when or how the ‘P’ setting might fail on a vehicle, on even imperceptibly gentle slopes.  A car could roll away ten seconds after it was parked or ten days after.  On private driveways, it is too common that the person crushed or killed is a small child, playing in its own yard.

Help save lives — and maybe your own.  ALWAYS use the parking brake!  I’m sure poor Anton Yelchin would have done so if he had known what might happen to him.


See also:    What To Do if Your Brakes Fail – Parking Brake Use is Risky!

For more information on how bad, and even how dangerous, the standard of advice in state drivers manuals is, you might wish to read  State Drivers Manuals Can Kill Your Kids, a research paper by the writer of this ADoNA article, published by the Society of Automotive Engineers [SAE], which charges a small fee for the paper (which goes to the SAE, not the author!).


See an article from CTV News regarding the Yelchin law suit.

Author: EddieWren

Eddie Wren is the CEO and Chief Instructor at Advanced Drivers of North America. His driver safety background is given at:

2 thoughts on “Runaway Vehicle Fatalities Such as the Death of Actor Anton Yelchin are Frequently and Easily Avoidable”

  1. Great point always use the parking brake if the brake sticks on replace the flexible cable to the wheels as road salt caused rusting and cause yhevbrskevyo stick on and burnout the brake shoes and or drums due to non release
    Have the control rod length checked between the shift lever and the transmission as the rubber engine mounts can sag causing the parking pawl to not be secured into the bottom of the V notch always use 2 methods of securement park brake and park in auto transmission or park brake and low gear facing up hill and reverse facing downhill and tires towards the curb front downhill and fast of front tire facing uphill wheel chocks are great for trailer towing adds extra safety

    1. You’ve made a perfectly good point. The cable of an unused parking brake can rust and seize-up, and it will then be unusable if ever required. Your other maintenance comments are helpful, too. Thanks for posting your comment.

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