Mistaking the Gas for the Brake

Mistaking the Gas for the Brake

Mistaking the Gas for the Brake

How can a driver mistake the gas for the brake? I could not rationalize this explanation after reading another news story where a senior in a parking lot had driven into a building with significant force. Surely the driver must have known that this was going to happen and could have prevented it.

A bit of research found Dr. Normand Teasdale at Laval University in Quebec. He has studied this phenomenon and explained to me that as we age, our ability to know exactly where our body is in space declines along with our ability to quickly and smoothly move our feet from the gas to the brake. Add peripheral nerve problems and the driver’s ability to feel where their feet are also declines. The ultimate result is that the driver may genuinely believe that their right foot is pressing on the brake when it is really still on the gas.

Shouldn’t a person know that this problem is going to occur? Dr. Teasdale likened it to a senior with a balance problem that caused falls. Until a fall occurred, and further falls indicated that there was something wrong, the person would not know that this was a problem rather than an accident. The first crash caused by mistaking the gas for the brake could be a genuine driver error.

I also consulted a driver examiner. He told me that he watched pedal operation carefully whenever he examined a driver, regardless of their age. If the driver had difficulty with proper foot positioning and pedal operation they would not be able to pass a driving exam.

Dr. Teasdale suggested that this type of collision was not as common in Europe as it is here in North America. His hypothesis is that this may be because European vehicles tend to have manual transmissions and drivers are used to using both feet when they drive. This may help them to locate the pedals more accurately.

The stereotypical pedal error crash involves a senior driving through a parking stall and into a building. This may not be the case as a study in the US found a higher instance of these collisions among the 20 to 24 year old driver age group.

Story URL: https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/collisions/mistaking-gas-brake

Tim Schewe
Road Safety Advocate

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